THE WAY I SEE IT: Time to end check out counter charity

Caity Donohue

 To tell you the truth, I do not love surprises. I prefer to predict anything coming my way. 

Last week when I was in the checkout aisle at the grocery and trying to pay for my items without holding up the line behind me, I was taken aback when the clerk asked me if I wanted to make a donation to a charity being endorsed by the supermarket chain.  

“What?” I asked, looking up from my bag. I had been anticipating the usual, “Cash or credit?”  

“Do you want to make a donation?” she asked again, clearly thinking I was slow.  Once more she cited the charity. “A dollar?” she prompted.  

“Sure,” I mumbled in response, hyperaware of the people waiting in line behind me, studying this exchange. 

I signed the receipt and headed on my way, not thinking of it again until virtually the same situation occurred at CVS a few days later.  

Was this a new trend? Surely, it was an interesting tactic, using the spotlight on someone to encourage him or her to donate. 

Hypothetically, how could you say no?  

Is there any way to turn down a request for a donation, always such a small one, with a line behind you, and not come away looking like some kind of monster?  

You are pushed to contribute, and essentially it defies social mores if you decline.  

Leukemia, literacy, genocide in Darfur — these are obviously some worthy causes, but should you be pushed to contribute to them in the grocery or the convenience store?

On the one hand, I completely understand the motivation behind it. 

Perhaps many people would not go out of their way to support causes unknown to them or those hard to access. The option of donating in commonly frequented areas such as the grocery store or CVS makes it easier to do your part.  

However, making this request a part of the checkout process seems to make a lot of assumptions. I hope my meaning is not misinterpreted; I fully believe in supporting worthy causes.  However, charity in the checkout aisle can present a lot of problems. Maybe you are not financially stable and had planned to stick to a budget that would allow you to buy only basics today. 

 Perhaps it is not your money, rather, it is money your parents allot you for certain basic needs, and you feel uncomfortable cavalierly adding a dollar onto each expenditure.  

What if you simply feel a certain investment in other causes, and you choose to set aside an amount of money each month in your budget breakdown to benefit them? 

In this case, you prefer to save versus spending a few dollars each week on several different causes because you can feel that you are making a more substantial contribution. 

Or, as a self-proclaimed “jaded” professor of mine once suggested, if you are unfamiliar with the organization, how can you know where a donation is going, or whom it affects?  Specifically, in the brevity of the situation with either checkout clerk, there was no way to look into the organization or the information that I might normally explore before donating.  I was hardly going to pump the checkout clerk for details with a line growing behind me.  

I truly believe that service and charity are important in this world. I have certain causes I feel deeply connected to. 

Ideally, I would hope that each person in society feels some sort of motivation to improve the community in some way.

However, what rubs me the wrong way about charity in this form is the effect of social pressure. 

Is it fair to expect people to serve a multitude of causes, instead of a few they feel tied to? 

It says something negative about our society that we have to essentially force members of a community to contribute. 

Moreover, it hardly seems appropriate to judge someone for refusing when the reasons could be perfectly logical. 

I feel strongly that a simple, polite, “No, thank you — not today,” should not invite judgment.    


Caity Donohue is a sophomore English and secondary education major from Northbrook, Ill.  She can be reached at [email protected].