I don’t think there’s ever been a day when somebody didn’t question or second-guess me about this Army Of Good work with the Mansion and refugees. I understand that’s the way it is, grievance and suspicion are not part of the national story.
I accept it.
I’m a bit schizophrenic about it.
On the one hand, I appreciate people questioning me – they have a right to know what we are doing – and on the other, I just get weary of the snarky and often poorly-informed questions.
In my less gracious moments, I resent having to take time out of good work to argue with people, almost none of whom have ever contributed a penny to anything, to the best of my knowledge.
Perhaps it was the heatwave scouring much of the country, or our President’s Twitter rages – I’ve started thinking of him as Tweety Bird for some reason – but the messages came in a wave yesterday.
Yesterday was the nasty and grumpy day.
First, there was a surprising message from someone upset that we were trying to buy basketballs for Bishop Maginn or DVD’s for the Mansion residents, or concerned that I didn’t seem to care how Amazon employees were bring treated.
People wondered why I didn’t do more bargain hunting. One angry man – Brent – went onto eBay and listed all of the DVD’s that were cheaper than the prices on Amazon.
I am nothing if not transparent, I owe that to the people who send me their money. I get a lot of thanks and praise, so I suppose it’s only fair that I get a lot of sniping and questioning also.
They call it democracy, and I believe in it. It’s good for the righteous and the Second-Guessers, a vast subculture in America that loves social media. The first message was about basketballs:
“I’m having a tough time with this school. Please don’t take this in the wrong way. I have donated from the wishlist but this basketball request struck a nerve. Of course, I want the kids to have basketballs. Hope you get all you request but what kind of school has a gym with no gym equipment, an art department with no art supplies? What other departments are barebones. And why? This is the type of charity I cannot give to without seeing their financials.”
This one set me back, I admit. How was I supposed to take it? Why was it okay to buy soccer balls and shirts for the soccer team, but not to buy basketballs for Bishop Maginn?
Bishop Maginn High School opens its doors every morning all summer so that the refugee children and the poor children in the neighborhood can come into the gym and play basketball rather than roam the streets, dodging drug dealers and gangs.
The school does not have a single new basketball for its own students, kids have to bring their own scarred, patched and deflated balls.
What kind of school, I wrote back, has no equipment or art supplies?
A struggling Catholic School in a poor urban neighborhood whose student base has moved to the suburbs and who admits children whose families have no money to pay for tuition. The Catholics call this a “mission” school, it’s mission is to help these needy children.
The gym teacher begged for those basketballs, I’m told, and I am glad he did.
I told the writer that she may not have noticed that the Catholic Church, the owners of Bishop Maginn are spending billions of dollars justly settling lawsuits, and closing hundreds of schools.
If they closed Bishop Maginn, it would be a catastrophe for the needy students who go there. So they put up six $59 basketballs on their new Wish List. I told this messager that the school was asking for six new basketballs, and I was proud to have purchased three of them. They are all gone now.
I ought to say the sender is a good and generous person, we worked it out. She has often contributed to this work.
(There are now just two items and two gift cards left on the Bishop Maginn Wish List.)
Then this message from someone named Cameron, who suggested he has been reading the blog for a while (but I somehow doubt it.)
“I’ve been curious for a while now,” wrote Cameron, “how do you justify relying so heavily on Amazon, even including pictures that are essentially free advertising for them, knowing the horrific way they treat their employees.”
Cameron is a devotee of the new American way of online dialogue – sending snarky messages while hiding behind computers and then fleeing when challenged. I wrote to him and pointed out that I don’t run the Wish List’s or choose the items on them. I just support them, in order to help the residents and the refugees.
I said Amazon has been a godsend for the Mansion residents and Bishop Maginn. It is simple and safe and the things people need to get there quickly and as advertised. That is no small thing when people are desperate for underwear, socks or shoes.
I don’t really know a lot about how Amazon treats its employees, my guess is that they treat them as badly as most corporations in America treat their employees. I think “horrific” might be a bit of stretch. I don’t think they torture or murder anybody.
In our country, people are just garbage, to be discarded the second profits dip. Switching to e-Bay won’t stop that.
I told Cameron if he could suggest a corporation that could do what Amazon does and support our work as efficiently, I would be happy to pass that information along. I told him if I only ordered things from American corporations who treated their employees with compassion and generosity, we’d probably have to close up shop.
Cameron, of course, hid. It seems he wasn’t all that curious after all.
The idea of a snarky message is to feel the power and righteousness of sending it and then vanishing into the fog. I will never hear from him again.
I was barely done with Amazon and basketballs when Brent and Anne posted messages complaining about the price of the DVD’s the Mansion residents had requested. Six of them were posted on the Mansion Amazon Wish List.
“The Army of Good can do a lot better than buying wildly overpriced used DVDs on Amazon,” wrote Anne indignantly. “There are other sites that have them for one-tenth the price that Amazon charges.”
I also wrote back to Anne, saying that I didn’t choose the items on the Wish List, and I was sure that many could be purchased more cheaply. The thing about Amazon is that it is simple and people trust it and feel safe using it. They also have a vast range of products, almost everything we need, and they ship it quickly and intact.
If she wanted to find items at lower items and send them to the Mansion, I gave her the address: 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. I am waiting to hear back.
Brent went to eBay and posted a half-dozen links to eBay prices and products without comment, permission or explanation. I deleted his messages and told him to get lost.
I will say that I am wary of used products for the Mansion residents. So many are broken, scratched or don’t work at all. I am sorry to say people often send dirty or torn clothing. Or clean out their attics and ship the contents to me without asking. It is always good to ask.
Shopping on eBay with strangers is much more complicated and time-consuming than Amazon. And we’ve had bad luck with it, to be honest. I hate it when the residents get things that are broken, have no guarantees or not as advertised. I don’t want them wearing somebody else’s underpants and socks.
Beyond that, there are few well functioning computers at places like the Mansion. The staff generously takes the time to put some items up on the list, they do not have the time or bandwidth to bargain-shop. And they are so busy, they aren’t required to do this work.
It’s a miracle to have a wishlist like this for the Army Of Good, it is such a good thing, it has done so much good.
I buy many of the items myself if I have the funds, and I do bargain shop all the time, especially for clothes, I have a nice network of thrift shops. But I don’t have much time to bargain shop or browse the Internet either, I surely don’t have an hour to shop around for the cheapest DVD’s.
Sometimes the cheapest way is not the best way.
I’ve suggested three Wish Lists in the past few years – one for RISSE, the refugee and immigrant center in Albany, one for the Mansion, one for Bishop Maginn. All were successful beyond expectations. I can’t speak for RISSE, I haven’t been working with them for some time.
I will say this – the wish lists – was the best idea I have ever had for this work. This is the future of fund-raising.
The lists have drawn scores, if not hundreds of people who don’t have the time or skills to bargain shop online or send money over the Internet. They trust Amazon, and in this context, so do I. Its not my job to evaluate the corporate mentality and honor of every business we work with.
The wish lists have democratized fund-raising.
People can send their money directly to the people and institutions who need it, purchasing things they know are needed. There are no middle-managers or administrative fees. I can’t tell you how much good these wishlists have done. People know – see – what they are sending.
Nobody likes to be second-guessed, least of all me. But being open is important. I want to share these comments and explanations, you all deserve that, even if they do take more of my time that could be better spent.
P.S. There is one DVD left on the Mansion Amazon Wish List, it’s a Clint Eastwood DVD for $30. I’m sure it’s cheaper somewhere else, but if you don’t buy it, I will. It will come tomorrow. (The list is sold out, as of noon, Friday, thanks)
There are two items and two gift cards left on the Bishop Maginn High School Wish List. One is some copies of Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, the other a Jumbo Monthly Classroom Calendar.
I have a dream that both lists will be empty by the end of the day. The gift cards will say up.
As always, thanks for listening.