Philanthropy

Years ago, I made a trip to New York City to spend Christmas and New Year’s in the city. New York is magical during the holidays. The department store windows are incredible. The food in the restaurants is magnificent. Everyone should be in Times Square with someone they love on New Year’s Eve, at least once. If you haven’t gone to New York for the holiday season, you should put it on your bucket list.

Every year hundreds of Utahns visit New York City sometime during the holiday season. This year, a couple of native Utahns, Michael and Heather Kofoed, made the trip. I use the term “native” because Michael and Heather now live out of state.

Michael grew up in Syracuse and graduated from Clearfield High School. Heather was raised in Morgan, and she is a Morgan High School graduate. Michael and Heather earned degrees from Weber State University. Both went on to earn graduate degrees, and Michael now is an assistant professor of economics at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.

The Kofoeds, and their three children, went to New York to see the sights and do some shopping. Yet, some of the things on their shopping list were a little different from the norm. They made it a point to stop at a vending machine between Lincoln Center and Central Park. Why would you shop for Christmas at a vending machine?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has put a “giving machine” in New York. Rather than purchasing a soda or a bag of chips, people can choose to give a first-aid kit, an eye exam, a pair of socks, soccer balls, or hygiene supplies to people in need.

The donations go around the world. The church partners with groups such as UNICEF, Water For People, Eye Care 4 Kids, the Utah Food Bank and the Utah Refugee Connection to acquire and distribute the donated items.

The Kofoeds’ 8-year old, Anders, bought a pack of 100 polio vaccines. Anders had previously visited Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, New York. During that visit, he was fascinated that President Roosevelt was in a wheelchair because of polio. When he saw the vending machine, he was surprised that polio still existed in other countries around the world. He wanted to help.

Five-year-old McKay bought a fish to help stock a pond in a developing country. Three-year-old Hyrum bought two chickens to help some aspiring chicken ranchers. Six-month-old Maja doesn’t carry much cash, so she didn’t buy anything. Give her a few years.

Michael says that he and Heather strive to find opportunities for their children to focus on those in need, particularly during the holiday season. The Kofoeds feel that too often children are preoccupied with the toys they will receive. The giving machines are a way to educate children about the opportunities to serve those less fortunate. The Kofoed children enjoyed the experience. They were also touched by the fact that children their own age within the New York City metropolitan area needed some of the items.

The Kofoeds weren’t alone in their desire to give. They had to stand in a long line of New Yorkers who were waiting to use the giving machine, and many had their children with them.

You don’t need a giving machine to teach children about the rewards of philanthropy. When I was a small boy, a local family was burned out of their house on Christmas Eve. My father asked me and my brother and sister to pick out some toys to take to the children who had just lost their home. He said it was important they have toys on Christmas. It was a good lesson in charity.

Many people make resolutions at the start of the new year. A resolution to consider is to learn more about the many ways one can help those less fortunate. If you have children, you might consider passing that lesson along to them.

The giving machines are an easy way to give children that lesson, and you don’t need to go to New York to use one. There is a giving machine in Salt Lake City. There are also several others scattered around the world.

Whether you use a giving machine or not, an important lesson to learn, and to pass on, is the lesson of charity.

Dr. Michael Vaughan is a Weber State University economics professor and directs the Center for the Study of Poverty & Inequality.

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