© iStockphoto.com/Monika Adamczyk
“THAT’LL BE $96.57 with
the coupons,” the pretty
young woman says as she
begins to bag my groceries.
As I swipe my credit
card, my four-year-old, Josh, shakes his
“You know,” he says, “if we didn’t
spend so much on food, we’d have a lot
more money for toys.”
But it is only after I have recounted
this story to everyone I know that it hits
me: It’s always a choice. And, yes, fewer
carrots and pork chops do mean more
PlayStation games and Legos.
That evening, I’m sitting watching
It’s a Wonderful Life with my two sons
when a commercial opens with the
wide-eyed face of the dearest girl I’ve
“Just $20 a month will feed and
clothe Marie and buy her medicine and
schoolbooks,” a man is saying. Both
boys are riveted.
“Hmmm,” I say. “Twenty dollars a
month. That’s how much we were
going to spend on the new high-speed
Internet. What do you guys think?
Faster Internet or $20 for Marie?”
“Mom, don’t be silly,” eight-year-old
Adam says. “Who would pick the
Who indeed? The movie’s back on.
Harry Bailey is calling Uncle Billy. And
we call, too. Adam does the talking.
“Hello, this is Adam. We’d like to
wait a minute for things on the computer
and give our money to Marie.
Could you give it to her?”
A week later Josh shrieks out from the
den: “Mom! Dad! Come look at the TV.
Marie is on! She looks great!”
And so it begins. A few days later I go
to the bank and get four rolls of quarters,
which the boys unwrap in the
middle of the table.
“O.K.,” I say. “Now let’s see what
these little round silver things can buy.”
I give the boys a few catalogs from
charities which specify what we can
buy with what amount. We settle on
Africa to begin. Adam and his dad—our
resident mathematicians—do some serious
“Here it is,” Adam says at last. “For
25 cents we could buy food for a day for
this little boy, or a shot to make him
well, or clean water for one whole week
or a whole pair of sandals because he
has to walk miles and miles to his
“I hate shots,” Josh says. “Let’s get
“I think he’d like some food,” Adam
says. “I’d like food.”
“Oh, wait just a minute. I forgot,” I
say. “We only have so many quarters
I put on the table a few fliers from
some local toy stores. “We need to
choose what we will buy.”
“You mean we can buy toys instead
of food and shots and sandals?”
“Yep,” I say. “You guys get to
The boys peruse the fliers.
Then Adam picks up a World Relief
flier to hold in the other hand.
“Wait a minute,” he says, laughing.
“I can buy a camera phone for the same
amount I could get a cow which could
give milk to a family for a whole year.
I think I’d like a cow, please.
“Or I could buy a goat for what it
costs to buy a punching bag. I don’t
need a punching bag. I’ve got Josh.” He
jabs his brother, who starts yelling that
he wants a goat, too.
This was three years ago—years that
have rushed by in a heartbeat.
I sit here this morning looking at
our refrigerator door. There is a crayon
drawing of Adam and Josh done by
our sponsored child, Rose Ibanga, who
lives in Nigeria. There are also magazine
pictures of not just goats and cows but
every animal there is. Each one is
labeled lest there be any misunderstanding.
Our first cow we named Camera
Phone, and the two goats were christened
Sega Genesis I and II. The walls of the boys’ rooms are plastered with
pictures of the purchases, many paid for
with the spoils of leaf-raking ventures
and lemonade stands.
We can give our children choices:
real choices. They’re smarter than we
think. But we need to share with them
how wide the world is and how great
human need is.
In a time when our country is fearful,
when we want to close our doors to
keep our children safe inside, we must
understand that the world is bigger
than the United States. We need to
know and teach our children that every
person on the globe is more alike than
We need to share with them human
needs and the understanding that we
are blessed with a great bounty we can
share, that what we give can make the
difference. A child must also see that his
or her parents value giving, too, and
practice what they might be preaching
to their children.
I have a friend—a mother of two
grown-up daughters—who loves a certain
kind of sugar-coated pecans. These
pecans are expensive and hard to find.
This mother got a letter from her daughter not long ago. Part of it read:
“I’m sending you some of those
pecans you like so much. I was surprised
to find them. Remember when
I was little and you took me to the grocery
store? You were so excited one day
because you came across those pecans.
We didn’t have much money then, but
you had $5 you’d gotten for your birthday
and so you bought the pecans. You
were so excited.
“As we left the store, just outside the
door was a collection bin for the Food
Bank. You reached into our bag for a
can of tuna fish to donate, and then
you said out loud, ‘No! I will not give
to the Lord that which costs me nothing.’
And you kept the tuna fish and put
the sugared pecans in the collection
bin. You walked toward the car with a
big smile on your face. I remember that
every time I see someone in need.
“Thanks, Mom, for showing me.”
I’m not saying that this parenting project
is all smooth sailing. Yes, Adam did
decide to send his allowance to the
mayor of Baltimore to help all the
homeless we saw on a recent visit there.
But, by the same token, when I suggested
to Josh that he not only put his
pennies in the Salvation Army collection
pot today, but also when he is a
man, he replied, entirely seriously, “I
think I’ll let my wife take care of that.”
And it must be said that my children
do still receive games and toys
and presents, but not as many, not as
often. They still sometimes struggle
with this. Advertisements are very effective.
They, and we, see so many things
for sale that seem appealing and even
We have developed a rule for shopping
that seems to serve us well as a
whole family: Whenever we are shopping
and we see something we hadn’t
planned to buy, we invoke “The Fortnight
Rule.” We go home and wait 14
days before deciding if it is something
we want or need.
This rule even created a tradition:
In the early days, the boys thought a
fortnight was a night spent in a fort out
in our backyard. From time to time,
they will have a backyard campout at
some time during the 14 days. It is a
custom they love.
So very much of what we want to
teach our children is the deep and
meaningful value of community and
experience over possessions. As an exercise
in this direction, the boys have
organized a few fund-raisers for special
projects: garage sales, puppet shows
and a dog-walking service one summer.
Children are practical. We fear that
they will worry and feel sad when
shown the world’s greatest needs, but
much more often their response is
action. They love being able to do
something. They love to help.
There is much we can learn from
children about the way in which they
view the world. Presented with the
enormity of human suffering across
the globe, the typical adult might say,
“What can we possibly do that would
make a difference? The problem is too
huge.” Children have more wisdom in
this instance. Their usual response is
more along the lines of, “Let’s do something.”
There is a story of a woman who
came upon an old man while walking
on a beach early one morning. She was
amazed to see the shoreline littered
with hundreds of starfish that had
washed up and were dying in the morning
sun, deprived of the seawater they
needed for life. The old man was picking
up the starfish, one at a time, and
carrying them down to throw them
back into the ocean.
The woman approached him and
said, “Why do you even try? There are
far too many. You’ll never get them all.
Your efforts are noble, but they just
The old man looked down at the
starfish in his hand and flung it into the
“It mattered to that one,” the old
man said. “It mattered to him.”
by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
FOR FAMILIES interested in donating such gifts,
four popular organizations are the Heifer Project,
World Vision, the Christian Appalachian Project
and Catholic Relief Services. Each agency has an
online catalog and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, accredited
by the Better Business Bureau and similar groups.
Heifer Project (www.heifer.org) began in 1944
when 17 heifers were sent from York, Pennsylvania, to
Puerto Rico. The program now includes 128 countries
in Africa, Asia, the South Pacific, Central and Eastern
Europe and North America. Recipients agree to “pass on
the gift” by sharing the offspring of gift animals to further
the group’s goal of sustainable development. Heifer
Project is headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas.
World Vision (www.worldvision.org) sponsors more
than 500,000 children in almost 100 countries in Africa,
Latin America/Caribbean and Asia, as well as the Middle
East and Eastern Europe. Its disaster relief and other
programs reach almost 100 million people. This Christian,
humanitarian organization began in 1950 and is
headquartered in Federal Way, Washington.
The Christian Appalachian Project (www.christianapp.org) was begun in 1964 by Father Ralph Beiting and
is an interdenominational, nonprofit Christian organization
serving people in need in Appalachia by providing
physical, spiritual and emotional support through
a wide variety of programs and services. One of its services
is a store that sells locally made products, aiding
the economy of that region. It is headquartered in
Hagerhill, Kentucky (near Lexington).
Catholic Relief Services (http://gifts.crs.org) assists
people in over 100 countries, regardless of race, religion
or nationality. CRS provides emergency aid and seed
money for self-sufficiency projects regarding food, education
and health care. It is the official international
humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community.
Begun in 1943, CRS is headquartered in Baltimore,