This happened maybe seven years ago and I still become flustered thinking about it. This embarrassment has faded into a general feeling of ‘what /should/ we have done’ and with the discovery of this site, I am submitting my story. My natural writing styles tends to be something near satirical so please don’t take the comments in parentheses as exact reproductions of reality.
I am the daughter in this story and I understand that at the time it was not my place to say or do anything. I am writing to ask if my mother should have done anything different, and if something like this ever happens to me again, what I should do.
My family and I had moved to a new state and regularly visited a church in a small town of about 3,000 people – you can fill in the details yourself of what that entails. We had been living in the area for about three years and were very close with the church and the people. Every year for the holidays our church did a food drive where we were asked to bring in nonperishable food and place them in boxes at the back of the sanctuary so the food may be distributed to needy families in the area. In addition, the church funded the buying for each family a turkey for Christmas week. The general feel of this was a way to do hometown missionary work and help out people who really needed it. I am not quite sure how the food was distributed, I believe there was a small group of people in the church in charge of this event and they chose the families and worked to bring the food out.
My family and I happily participated and brought in the food that had been sitting in our cupboards forever (with all appearance of not being used by us) and checked expiration dates (this was a good way to do some winnowing of the cupboards). We also picked up a few things when we were out grocery shopping. Thus we dutifully placed our contributions into the box each year and then listened as the weeks went by and the pastor kept us updated on the ‘sharing and caring’ of the food. This was a way for our family to aide needy people in the local community (and being able to remove unwanted food was also nice). We contributed each year a significant amount – two or three armfuls of food.
We did this for maybe three years, and on the fourth year is when The Incident occurred. It was holiday season again, the tree was hung, the boxes were out in the back of the church. My family packed up a cardboard box of our donations and placed the box near the others. We then continued with the general good feelings of having aided others who needed it.
The week before Christmas, we received a knock on the door. My mother opened the door and I watched as she had a quick conversation with someone outside of the door. The woman outside the door was part of our church and thrust a box at my mother, with a large, hard, round shape on top. My mother awkwardly took the box, muttered something, a thanks I believe, and then shut the door.
And this is the embarrassment: Our church had given US a box. More irony: it was the same cardboard box we’d brought to the church (the food inside was somewhat changed but still half of it was what we’d given). And the last stroke of pain: my mother had already purchased our family a turkey, so now we had two.
Our family had not been doing well financially, but we certainly didn’t feel like we were /that/ bad – to the point of necessitating missionary-esque aide. (My mother had managed to purchase a turkey on her own, thank you). I believe the general etiquette would be just to take the box, grit our teeth, and smile. It was a gift, and kindly meant. My problem with that is my belief that it showed the church we needed the box. We had already provided for ourselves. Surely another family needed it more than us – we didn’t. And now we had a giant frozen ball to stuff somehow in the freezer next to the other equally large and round one!
The rejection was further complicated because there it was one woman who had delivered the box. If we had tried to give her back the box and ask her to give it to another family (or something) that would have involved her trying to deal with the situation immediately, on her own, without assistance from the people who had chosen us in the first place. It had nothing to do with her personally that the church’s charity was unwanted. The situation was awkward enough without adding more. If we had made her take the box back it would have forced whoever ran the food drive in the church to deal with the returned box.
This was our church in a small town, so whatever action we took would be known throughout the land by Next Tuesday.
So, Etiquette Hell:
Should we have accepted the embarrassing gift, or should we have rejected it? 0319-13
It’s a gift kindly meant so you accept it graciously and then either quietly regift it to some other food bank or charity or you host a lovely dinner using the box’s contents and inviting a few elderly community members or lonely single adults away from home at the holidays. As a Christian, you know nothing happens serendipitously but rather by direct will of God so for some reason He wanted you to have this gift from the church. Using it to bless others in a way you had not originally intended may be one reason.