On being asked for donations.

The other day I went shopping with my mom. When I came back from Belgium, I made a list of clothing items that I “need” and that should be purchased in the U.S., where sales are forever and prices ridiculously low. The list consisted mostly of wardrobe staples — dark-wash jeans, black blazer, nude heels, black flats, cardigans, winter jacket, etc. So the other day, after picking up my pathetically small paycheck (in spite of the overtime hours I put in), I decided that it was time for some retail therapy. I grabbed my mom and we headed to the outlets.

I made the list because I wanted to have, in writing, a clear idea of what my wardrobe lacks. I thought this would translate into smart shopping trips, where I stay glued to the list and forgo the “oh-my-God-I-must-have-it-because-just-look-at-that-price” shopping pattern that I have recently fallen into.

It didn’t work.

Rather, I ended up with a (wonderful, I should preface) navy-and-white striped blazer. This after I put down a black blazer with white piping for being too “out there”, while simultaneously telling the sales girl that I always, when shopping for blazers, go in looking for a black one and then end up with anything but (plaid, corduroy — though it was black, and now striped).

Anyway, cut to me standing in line at the register, silently justifying why I should spend money it took half a shift at the hotel to make on a blazer I could probably only style two or three ways (with my current wardrobe…I also segued into all the other items I could bulk up my wardrobe with that would look awesome with my latest find). Eventually I cave and hand the blazer to the cashier.

The cashier proceeds to ring up my purchase, and then asks if I would like to donate any money to xxx charity (whose name/mission I have since forgotten). She goes on to tell me that any donation, no matter how small could mean something to the sick children/animals/elderly people or whoever it helps.

Now, I have a ridiculously strong guilt complex. Obviously, I am spending money on myself for an item of clothing I do not need (in the strictest sense of the word). How do you say no, it’s all mine! to sick children?

This thinking has gotten me into trouble in the past. Mostly with my boyfriend.

In Belgium, you can always find students or volunteers in shopping streets or train stations collecting donations for some organization or other. You typically can see them coming because the flow of pedestrian traffic moves around them, as if they are some kind of boulder blocking the normal path of a river or stream. But at times, they sneak up and grab you (not literally, that would be creepy).

Joery has banned me from talking to them. All of them. It has to do with two separate incidents that happened within a week of each other. The first was when I was waiting for a friend in the Brussels train station. If you stand still in a train station for too long, especially the busy ones, you will have someone come up to you asking to donate money or sign a petition or, in this case, sign a two-year contract for a new cell phone plan. And they don’t really care if the contract is in a language you don’t understand. I mean, you should care. But they certainly don’t.

I think it took Joery two hours on the phone to straighten that mess out and get me out of the phone plan (I thought it was an upgrade that I was getting an amazing deal on…damn language barrier).

The second incident was also a misunderstanding. I thought I was giving a one-time donation to a really sweet guy (he looked as if his job made him uncomfortable, so half of my donation was to make him feel better about himself) who was collecting money for Amnesty International. I know a lot about Amnesty, I like their work, and I thought, you know what, it won’t hurt. Because he’s a kid in the middle of the street asking passer-bys for donations, he doesn’t actually collect money. Rather, you fill out a bank transfer form to transfer the donation from your account to theirs. So I filled out the form, gave it to the guy (who looked thrilled to get it, btw), and headed home, happy that I did my good deed for the day.

As it turns out, the donations are not one-time only withdrawals. Instead, I had signed up for a monthly donation to Amnesty. Luckily, Joery caught that for me too (he’s more savvy when it comes to these things), so I was able to amend it (no offense Amnesty, but I can’t afford monthly donations at this time. Contact me in a few years).

So because of these two incidents, Joery has told me that I am no longer allowed to talk to people with clipboards on the street. But I still feel guilty about gliding by or pretending I can’t understand them or that I’m in a hurry.

Back to the cashier who is now bagging up my striped blazer and waiting for me to respond about the donations. I look at my mom, back at the cashier, at the blazer, and back at my mom before saying, “you know, I don’t think I should today.” Guilt ensues.

But rather than do what most cashiers do and accept that answer and move on, this particular (and, may I add, cunning) one says, “well you can always just donate the penny so your total is an even thirty dollars.”


“Isn’t that a little cheap? I mean, I know they say every penny counts but it would be rather embarrassing to have my name on that.”

The cashier shrugs. “You’d be surprised at how many people do it.”

So now I’m stuck. I don’t want to donate a penny, but how do you say no to a penny? So I break down and tell her to do a five-dollar donation.

At that point, my mom chimes in with a, “really, Karin? I don’t think you can afford that, do you?”

Thanks, mom. But really, thanks. Because it gave me the out I was looking for. And in spite of my reckless splurge on a new blazer (which was over 50% off, I should add), it’s pretty accurate.

So the cashier does the penny donation, which is embarrassing enough but better than nothing, right?

But before releasing my new purchase to me so I can hang my head in shame over my penny donation on my way out the door, she proceeds to ring a little bell on the counter so all the staff members stopped what they were doing and, in perfect unison, chimed “Thank You”.

I grabbed the bag, muttered, “you’re welcome” and booked it out of there.


2 thoughts on “On being asked for donations.

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