The Generosity Paradox

The other day I read an article that should have been very moving. At least, that should have been my reaction based on the reactions of people who were sharing the article on Facebook.

The article is about a growing number of anonymous donors at Kmart stores across the country who are paying off bills and layaway account for people who can’t afford to buy Christmas gifts for their kids.

Before I continue with what I have to say, I want to be clear: I am not in any position to tell people how to spend their money or how to define generosity. If it feels good for you to give in a way that I can’t relate to, that’s totally fine.

My first reaction as I started to read the article was: This is so cool. It’s the equivalent of the person in front of you at the toll booth paying for your toll, except the generosity of the Kmart givers specifically targeted kids. Kids who can’t help that they’re poor.

But then I read this: “Dona Bremser, an Omaha nurse, was at work when a Kmart employee called to tell her that someone had paid off the $70 balance of her layaway account, which held nearly $200 in toys for her 4-year-old son.”

Let that sink in for a minute. Here are my two points/questions:

  • Why are you spending money you don’t have on things you don’t need? Isn’t that one of the major reasons why America’s economy is terrible? And why, if you walk into Kmart with a fistful of cash and are feeling generous, would you enable someone to continue to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need?
  • $200 in toys? For a 4-year-old? I’ll tell you what I wanted when I was 4 years old: a cardboard box and chocolate. If the money was being spent on clothes or necessities, I think I’d understand the vastness of that expense. But $200 on toys for a little kid who will play with them for a month and then forget about them? That’s just irresponsible.

These generous donors made Christmas miracles for these parents and kids, that I cannot deny. I just wonder if it’s responsible giving, given the irresponsibility of that parent (and countless others, I’m sure).

What do you think?