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Charity Goes Around And Comes Around

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.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dust Bunny December 12, 2013, 10:09 am

    You’re way overthinking this, LW. It was a well-meant misunderstanding: Let it go and move on. Donate a little extra next year if you can afford to and it makes you feel better.

  • Cat December 12, 2013, 10:30 am

    Princess Buttercup and Hakayama-This issue of clean and unclean animals came up in early Christianity and was a subject of dispute between the Apostles Peter and Paul. Peter held that all Christians had to be Jews first, even if it meant converting to Judaism) and then Christians; they had to keep kosher and to observe the Jewish festivals. Paul felt it was enough that Gentile converts (non-Jews) abstain from blood (which, to them, was life itself) and meat that had been sacrificed to pagan gods.
    Peter’s mind was changed by a vision that is related in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 10: 10-48. All mainstream Christian churches eat pork,shrimp, lobster, etc. that are forbidden to Orthodox Jews.
    Hope this clears it up for anyone thinking, “What”?

  • hakayama December 12, 2013, 11:25 am

    @Cat: I know some things about the issues tackled by the “ancients”, including the bit of transiting from pan/multi to mono, etc.
    However, I am not questioning THOSE issues.
    What I just cannot “see” is that, some likely VERY “modern” Christian is speaking for, and/or including ALL the diverse Christians in what may be practices of just one rather obscure denomination, not to say “sect” as that can be seen as pejorative… Something along the lines of trying to put the many (quite large ones) under the umbrella of one (probably small).
    Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve really got it wrong altogether… Maybe PrincessButtercup’s stance is that HER group is the only true one worthy of being called Christian?

  • Nikki December 12, 2013, 2:12 pm

    Something similar happened to my mother, and she was equally embarassed, as the OP’s mother seemed to be.
    Our pastor handed her a $50 gift card to a local grocery store. It was known to be part of the church’s charity missions that one of the collections we take every year is that congregants can buy grocery/gas/store cards to be distributed to needy families in the church/community.
    My mother was VERY upset. She was a single parent, yes, and we certainly were FAR from rich – but she was good with money and our home was paid for, and we NEVER went without. We took vacations every year and wore nice brands and she just could not figure out why they would think she needed money to buy food for her family.
    She saved the card for five years before her pride disbursed enough for her to use it, and she bought fruit and crackers with it to distribute to nursing home patients for Christmas. So it did do some good.

    To this day, I have NO idea why they thought we would need it, but I don’t think anyone was rude.
    I like that my mother (eventually) used the card to help others in need.

  • MichelleP December 12, 2013, 5:27 pm

    @hakayama, you’ve made an interesting assumption with your statement that the pp was “the authority over Christians”. She made no judgemental remarks at all and didn’t even imply that she was in any way an authority. For someone who is supposedly a Christian, I’ve noticed that you make pretty harsh comments on this site.

  • Lo December 12, 2013, 8:56 pm

    What’s so offensive about @PrincessButtercup’s expression of her Christian faith including not eating unclean meats? This poster is probably a Seventh-Day Adventist.

    There’s nothing wrong with using the term “Christian” to cover a multitude of practices, often contradictory. For this poster, it’s as much a part of the faith as Mass is an essential part of Christianity to a Catholic. I certainly didn’t get the impression I was being spoken for.

  • Library Dragon December 12, 2013, 9:43 pm

    The only error I see on the church’s part was to have a face-to-face drop off with someone who didn’t request assistance. It created embarrassment for both the woman dropping of the box and the OP’s mother. Many families will never ask out of pride, not being a member, etc. My mother and SF would never request assistance (the preferred holiday coverage method was writing a bad check). When a basket appeared on appeared on our doorstep a few days before Thanksgiving one year we were very grateful. We suspected it was from the LDS church that my sister’s friend attended. It was totally anonymous and there was never any other contact. I’ve always considered it a good model for giving to those I know.

  • Goodness December 12, 2013, 9:50 pm

    It would be more diplomatic to give charity only to those who ask for it, but the problem is that many people who need help are too embarrassed to do so. The would-be givers are “d^mned if you do and d^mned if you don’t.” Take the box, set it aside, and immediately call the person in charge. Instead of “hey, there’s been some mistake,” you ask them if they’d been able to handle all the families in need, because “our holiday meal is already covered, so can we drop this box somewhere for you?” (Way more face-saving all around than demanding they come back and get it.)

  • Decimus December 12, 2013, 11:57 pm

    I’d say the solution is accept the basket, then promptly call the pastor/minister/priest and say “I didn’t want to embarrass X who dropped this off, but clearly there’s been a mistake here, we offered food and don’t need it. Would you like us to return it or deliver it to someone else?”

  • Cat December 13, 2013, 3:33 pm

    Trying to sum up the what is and what is not Christian issue: the first split in the Church occured around 1046 AD when the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church became separate churches along the same lines of the Roman Empire, which had split in half.
    In the 16th and 17th centuries, a second major split came with the Roman Catholic Church when the Protestant (the word comes from Protest) Reformation began. John Calvin, Zwingli, Martin Luther, Henry VIII of England, and quite a few others formed their own Christian churches according to what they believed to be true.
    Over the centuries, other churches have formed and they follow a multitude of beliefs. Most keep Sunday as the Lord’s Day, but others still celebrate Saturday as the Sabbath. Some believe that the Eurcharist is a memorial meal while Catholics believe in transubstantiation and the Anglican church believes in consubstantiation. It all comes under the general title of Christian.

  • hakayama December 13, 2013, 4:52 pm

    @Lo: you stated that “There’s nothing wrong with using the term “Christian” to cover a multitude of practices, often contradictory.” [Eh?]
    Would you please now consider the following statements:

    “In the US, Christians stopped practicing polygamy in 1890.”
    “In the US, Christians still practice polygamy.”
    “Christians prove their faith by entering snake pits.”

    Would you by chance allow that the four letter word “some” would make a whole lot of difference in the logic AND truthfulness of the above statements?
    The moment the word “Christianity” is used, it logically covers ALL of the different and distinct denominations, and I don’t think that members of most of them would care to be confused with the others, or sort of accused of practices of the others. Nicely enough, the same goes for Judaism and Islam with their own subdivisions.

    @MichelleP: I assumed nothing. I did not accuse BC of making judgmental statements. All I did was question the apparent presumption on the part of Princess Buttercup to implicitly characterize as universally “Christian” the practices of HER PARTICULAR denomination.

    You also describe my comments as “harsh”… If being clear and direct is sometimes harsh, then I’m guilty. “I call them as I see them” is my motto, particularly since allusions, indirect references, sugar coating and euphemisms too often don’t reach the target “audience”.
    As for a behavioral model, I just looooove the episode of Jesus dealing with money changers in the temple. 😉 If He lost his cool, so can we. Right? 😉
    Now I need a break from all this. Blessings.

  • delislice December 13, 2013, 8:45 pm

    Now that the original problem has been thoroughly dissected in proper E-Hell fashion, I’d like to fixate on something the admin said in her response: “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.”

    I am a Christian, and hold a Master of Divinity degree. One of the statements that drives me spare is when people say that such and such “is God’s will.” Sometimes things JUST HAPPEN. The tsunami in 2004 was not God’s will. Adam Lanza killing 26 people in Newtown was not God’s will. Et cetera.

    And the OP receiving a charity box was not “by direct will of God” but because well-intentioned people, trying to do God’s will as they understood it, went about it in a disorganized and clumsy fashion.

    The OP’s family didn’t receive the charity box because God wanted them to have it … but, guided by God’s example, they could put it to good use:
    by giving the food to someone else
    by quietly speaking to the pastor about how they wished the box to go to someone else
    by waiting until after the holidays, and speaking with the organizers of the food collection about being a little less random in their choices.

    “As a Christian,” I know that a lot of things happen that have nothing to do with God’s will … and a lot of things happen when we are open to God’s will working in our lives.

  • Margo December 14, 2013, 2:41 am

    I think an appropriate way of dealing with it would have been to accept the box then immediately contact the pastor and explain that there had been a mistake, that the box had been delivered to you instead if the intended recipient (explaining that you have contributed to the food drive and are not in need) and ask whether he wanted you to return the box or deliver it to the intended recipient. That gives him an ‘out’ as you’re assuming the church/person delivering made a mistake with the address.

    I think it’s absolutely appropriate to tell the church, they need to know that their giving is not well thought out and that they have caused distress.

    I don’t think that politeness requires that you stay silent about a mistake which causes you, and has the potential to cause others, embarrassment. If the drive was intended to help needy families, it failed. The people organising it need to know that so they can make sure that in future, it does what they intend.

    The fact that it was a church organising it is irrelevent.

    I also think that something like this is completely different to gift giving with family and friends – if you give your friend/coworker cookies it’s not because you think he can’t afford to eat, it’s because you like him and think he may enjoy the cookies. There is a pre existing relationship and the gift giving is almost always reciprocal- either there is a gift exchange, or the gift is in recognition of other things the recipient has done. This *is* different.

    I think a simple “I’m sorry, there must be some mistake. Of course we *donated* to this programme, we dont need to revive a box” would be perfectly polite.

  • lopie December 16, 2013, 5:20 pm

    Contacting the church to re-arrange the box may have been best.

    But to be offended at this gesture implies that there is something shameful in being in a position in need and that you are ‘better’ than that, that people who are having hard times have themselves to blame, they don’t work hard enough, they just need to put more effort in etc. I’m not saying you consciously think these things at all but that is really the underlying message, otherwise there would be no embarrassment at the mix up, it would be just like any other misunderstanding.

  • Enna February 16, 2015, 1:18 pm

    I think keeping the food box or regifting it would both be acceptable ways to address this situation. It is a bit of an akward one.