Throwing money at problem offers no consolation
Last updated 10/17/2019 at 12:02am | View PDF
A young man rang our doorbell Tuesday night last week, interrupting one of my less successful parenting moments.
As soon as I opened the door and saw his clipboard, I knew what he wanted. He was selling subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal — for a mere $100 — so he could get his degree from Northwestern University.
He had graduated from Lane Tech, gone to community college for two years and already raised $14,000, he told me.
He was very friendly and very chatty, complimenting me on living in a nice house and a nice street and asking about the kind of day I was having. Not good, I told him, and he shared some words of wisdom from his grandma. “The day is what you make of it,” she always says.
I appreciated that he listened to his grandma, but I didn’t want to spend $100 to subscribe to the WSJ. That’s not a problem, he told me, as I could make a cash donation that would be matched by the paper. He had a $20 and some other bills strategically placed on his clipboard, offering their silent encouragement.
He handed me a laminated 8 1/2-by-11 sheet that supposedly outlined the whole program, if I would have taken the considerable time required to read it.
I didn’t want to make a contribution, either.
I wanted to tell him that I don’t appreciate people showing up at my door asking me to make impulse decisions about offering financial support.
I wanted to ask him why he wasn’t working rather than knocking on doors, asking people for money. But it doesn’t take long to figure out the answer to that question. If he can get $20 from one house every hour, he can earn far more than he would at a typical part-time job like flipping burgers or bagging groceries.
I wanted to tell him that I don’t believe he is going to go to Northwestern, and not because of the color of his skin or his dreadlocks. I can’t imagine someone who can’t construct a grammatically correct sentence would be admitted into the No. 9 ranked college in the country.
But I was afraid of what he would say.
“You don’t think a kid like me can get into Northwestern?”
And how could I possibly respond?
Looking back, I should have asked him whether he had a permit to solicit. I should have asked who was coordinating the subscription sale. I should have — according to an article I found in the Chicago Tribune — done some research online. While looking on the Trib’s website to see if there was any mention of students selling subscriptions, I found an article titled “Here’s why you should reject door-to-door sales.” The headline pretty much says it all.
I wish I could have explained to him that I try to help people in need by supporting organizations that can identify and address those needs, not by handing out cash to an individual who shows up at my front door.
But all that seemed too much to accomplish while he was standing there on my front step, waiting for my answer. So I went to my purse and pulled out a $20.
I gave him the cash because I could. He wanted money and I had money. I could respond to his request much easier than I could to the matter I was trying to solve when the doorbell rang.
I wish I felt good about my decision.
I wish I believed him.
— Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected]