My parents have always given me a hard time about not smiling enough. I don't smile often in pictures, and generally just walk around with a "normal" expression on my face. It doesn't mean I'm unhappy, for whatever reason I'm not much of a smiler. As I was walking out of my local big box store today (I bought a sandwich at their deli) I saw a table set up in the parking log for a charitable organization called "Operation Smile." I had never heard of them personally (though I'm sure many of you good Kossacks have) so I decided to stop and ask them some questions. My adventures with charity and chicanery after the jump.
There were two young ladies running the Operation Smile table. The store had two entrances and I could see a similar table at the far entrance. It was clear that they had some sort of arrangement with the store to setup outside.
"Hey there, mister cool guy!" said the more energetic of the two young ladies at the table. "Would you like to support Operation Smile?"
As I said before, I'd never heard of it. It sounded like some kind of hippie feelgood project. But instead of just saying no I asked what it is.
"Oh it's great," she assured me. "They help pay for children born with facial deformities like cleft lip get surgery so that they can smile!"
She showed me some before and after pictures and I was convinced. This was a good thing. I imagine the kids would have to undergo a childhood of mocking in addition to having a difficult time communicating without the surgeries, so if this organization is helping them out, I'm all for it. I opened my wallet though, and I didn't have any cash!
"It's OK," the girl bounced. "We take cash, check, or charge."
"Great! I'd like to donate $5.00."
A momentary flash of panic crossed her face. She had skipped a part of her speech!
"Operation smile has partnered with Victoria Jackson for this fundraiser," she said. "You can get anything on the table here."
I had just assumed that the stuff on the table was literature. But looking down it wasn't. There were makeup kits, small black bags, and other various things I'd expect to see in a ladies purse. Many of them had "Victoria Jackson" emblazoned on them in white letters.
"Man," I said. "She really has turned that walking on her hands thing into a cottage industry."
"Oh it's not that Victoria Jackson," the girl assured me. "Not the one from Saturday Night Live. This is Victoria Jackson the famous makeup artist to the stars. And I bet you could use some makeup for your lovely lady at home."
"My lovely lady at home is named Marcos, and if he starts wearing makeup again I'm probably going to ask him to move out."
"Oh... Well... what about your mother?"
She can buy her own makeup and anyway I don't know what famous star she'd most want to look like. I'd just like to give $5.00 to the charity."
Another brief flash of panic.
"We're merchandise based," she said. "You can get anything on the table here."
"But I don't understand. Isn't it better for the charity if I just give you money and DON'T take anything from you? Less overhead?"
"That's probably true," she said. "But you can't really do that anymore since 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. A lot of those so called 'charity' operations turned out to be scams. So we have to give you merchandise in exchange for your donation."
That's when it dawned on me.
"And exactly how much of this 'donation' does Operation Smile get?"
She faltered a bit in saying, "Five Percent."
This was not--in fact--a charity operation at all. This was basically Avon. Yes, they were giving five percent of their procedes to charity, and I think that's cool, but... NINETY FIVE percent of it WAS NOT going to charity, and yet they were using these beautiful stories and pictures to get people to buy the makeup. For me the bottom line is this. If Victoria Jackson wants to donate five percent of her income to Operation Smile for a month, that's the coolest thing ever. But for her to USE Operation Smile specifically TO sell makeup... I think that's wrong. And the reason I think it's wrong is that anybody who is willing to shell out $20 for a little black bag secure in the knowledge that $1.00 of that will go to charity is PROBABLY just as willing to give $20 to the charity in the first place... and this Big Box Store sanctioned Victoria Jackson fundraiser had no mechanism for doing so.
So I gave the young lady my word that when I got back to work I would head on over to operationsmile.org and donate $5.00 directly to them. She sort of smiled weakly and shrugged in an, "It's all the same," kind of way. But it really isn't all the same.
I suppose on some level I should be thankful. Now by donating $5.00 to operation smile, I'm actually doing them A HUNDRED TIMES more good than if I had bought the stupid compact cozy.
And just imagine the implications if twenty or thirty of my fellow Kossacks were suddenly moved to do the same. It would be two or three thousand times more good!
So anyhow the point of this diary is twofold: First off in case you hadn't heard of operation smile, now you have. And it sounds like a great cause. SECOND off is this. If you are IN THE MARKET for makeup (or some other product) and you see that one brand donates X% to a charity you believe in, by all means buy that brand.
But if you are in the market for donating to charity, go RIGHT TO that charity and donate to them. Even though the magazine subscriptions and makeup kits that get sold DO do some good, they do MORE good for the company that is 'partnered' with the charity in question. If you feel like doing a $100.00 worth of good, why settle for $5.00?