You Don't Have To Buy What The Kids Are Selling, But You Do Have To Be Nice

by Christine Burke
iStock/Roberto A Sanchez

Last fall, my son stood in the warm October sun in his Boy Scouts shirt next to a table covered with the various types of popcorn his troop was selling. As is the custom, he and his fellow Scouts were selling popcorn as a way to raise money for their many Scouting activities and the requisite gear for their campouts.

We arrived at the convenience store where the troop was selling their merchandise, and my son took his place next to his friends. His troop leader coached them on being polite and courteous, and he warned them not to be pushy or overzealous.

As the afternoon wore on, it became apparent that many of the store’s customers were irritated with being accosted by a group of boys in tan uniforms asking in unison if they’d be willing to support Scouting. Many ignored the boys or purposely looked away as they hurried by in hopes of avoiding having to say no to the boys. While it was discouraging, there were several people who stopped to buy popcorn or at least listen to the boys’ sales pitch.

But there was one man who came by who made my blood boil. As he approached the table, he loudly announced that he hated Boy Scouting and he’d be damned if any of the boys were going to get his hard-earned money. He chastised them for “begging” and yelled at them to go participate in a “real” activity, like sports. He was rude, he was gruff, and when he’d said his piece, he stomped off, leaving the boys open-mouthed and crushed by his words. To their credit, the boys didn’t yell back at him or return his anger with flippant responses. If it were up to me, I’d have given that grumpy, rude-ass a piece of my mind.

Because here’s the thing: I hate fundraising just as much as the next person. I loathe being approached by friends and family with order forms for cookies, candles, and walk-a-thons. I can’t stand having to bug my own family members to buy items they don’t want, and I often wish there was a better way for sports teams and clubs to raise enough money without the burden of having to peddle cookie dough and wrapping paper.

But for as much as I can’t stand the actual selling of products to raise money, what I can’t stand more are people who are rude to the kids who are doing the fundraising.

There’s simply no excuse for an adult to be an asshole to a kid who is standing outside a grocery store selling cookies for her Girl Scout troop, or candy bars for their sports team, or whatever item to help alleviate the costs for whatever activity.

Kids today don’t have the social skills that our generation has, and that’s largely due to technology and social media. They spend less time face-to-face with their friends, and thanks to texting, they rarely actually talk on the phone. Fundraising in public allows kids to be coached to look beyond their fears of public speaking, and they often learn valuable lessons about social interaction. The children sitting at tables in the vestibules of grocery stores are learning to read body language, to work as a team, and to feel proud about being an active participant in a club or activity. And when an adult acts like a jerk to a kid who is learning how to break out of their shell, it can be devastating.

Furthermore, it’s not the kids’ faults they have to fundraise. They can’t control their parents’ budgets, and they certainly aren’t the ones who set the costs for the activities they want to join. Football gear is pricey, and a weekend camping trip can really tax a family’s budget, but both activities are worthwhile to a child’s overall development. Sometimes that $10 you spend on a box of popcorn or cookies means a city kid will have a one-time opportunity to spend a weekend in the woods learning how to build a fire. Adults need to look at those eager faces and remember that crushing their spirits can have lasting effects.

And it makes you look like a giant jerk when you chastise a kid because you don’t like what they are selling.

Right after the grumpy man stalked into the store, another gentleman approached the table. Before he even got within earshot, he was reaching for his wallet. He smiled amiably and asked each boy to describe a certain product. He listened to their sales pitches, made eye contact with them, and complimented them on their maturity. He proceeded to pull out $100 and bought an armload of caramel popcorn as his wife teased him about watching his weight. He smiled and simply said, “I was a Scout once, and I was the kid who couldn’t afford to go on any of the trips. I try to give back every time I see Boy Scouts because that’s what it’s all about.”

Yes, sir. That’s exactly right.

As he walked away, arms laden with popcorn, one of the boys commented that he wanted to be like that man when he grew up, and instant tears came to my eyes.

Kindness matters, even when you are in a hurry to get your grocery shopping done.