Little kids like Wal-Mart that much...?
November 27, 2008 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Why did so many of the children on my local "Angel Tree" ask for Wal-Mart gift certificates?

My local library has a tree with names on it courtesy of the local Children's Aid Society.

"On each tree are hung coloured tags containing children's first names, age and suggested gift items. Members of our community choose a tag and return a new, unwrapped (or in a gift bag) gift to the tree."

Right, right. So did most if not all of the children, or the people filling out the tags for them, ask for gift certificates to Wal-Mart or occasionally another local discount department store? Quite a few asked for these to the exclusion of all other items, which threw me.

I picked a 14yo boy who listed a few items besides the ubiquitous gift cards. I am waffling on whether or not the gift card is a good idea, along with a number of more present-y presents. (Among other things, I wonder why not just cash?)
posted by kmennie to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe the children have been part of the programme in the past and are tired of adults not understanding their true hearts desire. Most of the time if you are buying for a child and they ask for a train (for example) they have a specific train in mind (Thomas or one they saw a commercial for) that you can ask them about (Was it blue or red? Is it from your imagination or one you have seen in a shop?, etc). A gift card lets them choose exactly the item they want. I think giving just cash to many people shows even less thought than a gift card [not a big fan of gift cards].
posted by saucysault at 9:55 AM on November 27, 2008

Have you seen the form the kids are supposed to fill out? Maybe "gift certificate from a local store" is an option that they can either check or leave unchecked. Then, the volunteers who do the data entry on the requests make the request specific, and are maybe trained to do so, with a general recommendation (i.e., Walmart).
posted by dreamphone at 10:07 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can buy food and clothes that fit at wal-mart. If those are things they lack, I can see why they would want the gift certificates.
posted by sondrialiac at 10:22 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

If I was you I would check for shenanigans on the part of Wal-Mart.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:25 AM on November 27, 2008

Then they get what the WANT, not the guesstimate of a stranger on what the "coat and sox" they asked for look/fit like.
posted by tristeza at 10:25 AM on November 27, 2008

Writing (or saying) "Wal-Mart card" is a lot easier than attempting to explain, in excruciating detail for some stranger who might just not get it, what exactly you want. I can only imagine this would be exacerbated by cultural/language differences.

Depending on where the kids are coming from, Wal-Mart may be a pretty familiar store to them, with lots of stuff that they want.

Wouldn't surprise me if Wal-Mart was complicit somehow, though; they strike me as creepy like that. But it might have just been the influence of someone who was helping them fill out the cards.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:36 AM on November 27, 2008

I can see myself as a youngster when my family didn't have a lot of money being very excited at the opportunity to walk through a store (it would've been K-Mart in my day) and choosing anything I wanted (within a specified dollar limit). It didn't have to be a toy that could be shared by me and my siblings, it didn't have to be clothes a little too big so that I wouldn't outgrow them in a year, it didn't have to something "sensible." I could just pick out something I wanted and would never be able to get otherwise. Perhaps these kids are on the same train of thought.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:44 AM on November 27, 2008 [7 favorites]

If their parents helped fill out the form, they might be thinking of using the money for basics, like clothes and toiletries.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:07 AM on November 27, 2008

Sadly, cash can be used by parents for drugs, so the people who work with the kids on filling out their cards may specifically say not to ask for cash. (Not that they explained it to the kids like that.)

Also, gift cards are easier to ask for instead of a specific gift and for kids who may not get a lot of presents, if they only had 5 minutes to fill it out they might have been told write down gift card if you can't decide on a gift now.
posted by prettymightyflighty at 11:27 AM on November 27, 2008

Sadly, cash can be used by parents for drugs, so the people who work with the kids on filling out their cards may specifically say not to ask for cash.

So can gift-cards. Parent takes the $50 card, sells it to someone for $40 and buys $40 worth of drugs. Some charities that are especially concerned about this ask that gift cards not be given.
posted by CKmtl at 12:38 PM on November 27, 2008

I've given to a lot of holiday toy drives, and the concern that CKmtl points out is something that was relayed to me by one charity not too long ago. Is it out of the question for you to contact the organization behind the Angel Tree and speak with someone there about it?

That said, sondrialiac and small_ruminant are probably on target. The cards are probably intended to be used for clothes or necessities.
posted by trunk muffins at 12:45 PM on November 27, 2008

I doubt wal-mart will belly up, but you should avoid most gift cards, people are losing money when merchants declare bankruptcy. If you know any music genre well, then I might consider making them CDs of music you know most people like.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:57 PM on November 27, 2008

I am always suspicious of Wal-Mart, naturally, but in this case it might simply be the case that Wal-Mart in your neighborhood is the biggest, shiniest, coolest store for toys or whatever.

I also hate seeing "cash" and "gift certificates" on people's wish lists, since it really sucks the fun out of shopping and gifting for me, but I also remember being a kid and getting some truly awful sweaters, or the same toy three times, so it's not all bad I guess.
posted by rokusan at 1:07 PM on November 27, 2008

Actually, let me add something since my previous comment seems colder than I intended:

I, too, would think that it's for clothes and whatnot. Especially since it's for a 14yo, who would probably rather be able to choose his own pants than play fashion roulette with what some well-meaning (and *gasp* old) person may pick out.

Don't let the hazy possibility of a drug scam stop you. Because, really, if a theoretical addict parent were desperate enough, anything you give could be fenced somehow, somewhere. It would suck for that one specific kid to go without because of a mere possibility raised on a website.
posted by CKmtl at 1:16 PM on November 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

I grew up very very poor. As a kid I would have much preferred a gift certificate to someplace useful because it would have meant that I could go get myself some candy bars for dinner. Or new underwear.

As it was, we sometimes got a crappy basket of canned foods and extra cheap imitation toys. Mostly there was nothing on the porch.

We never got our names on a tree, but I've heard stories from kids whose family did, and something that happens sometimes is disparate gifts. (Like the bike thread that came up here, sometimes a giver is able to go all out, but sometimes the request is met with a pale shadow of the item in mind. Horrible when this happens within a family.) So, if all the kids ask for gift cards, then there isn't too much to be jealous over. As kids we could reapportion money between us (not that we did often, there just wasn't any), but you just cannot split up the coolness of new (to us) Rollerblades that only fit one kid in the family.
posted by bilabial at 1:44 PM on November 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

I would be guessing the parents are telling them to do this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:38 PM on November 27, 2008

For many families I know who are hard-up, Wal-Mart is kind of the promised land - for example, on Black Friday, they will match ANY deal. They have a lot of things kids want for low prices, they are often more accessible and more welcoming to low-income kids than mall stores, and yes, they let the kids pick themselves.

One year I asked my parents for black boots, and the difference between the clunky, awkward things I got and what I had in mind was night and day... the ability to choose makes a huge difference.

And while I hope the kids use them for toys, if they do need something like underwear or a toothbrush (but don't want to tell anybody) it allows them to buy it for themselves and keep their pride intact.
posted by SputnikSweetheart at 4:46 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I live in the sticks and the fairly new Wal-Mart out here is, well, the big store. I don't suspect Wal-Mart of anything weird (though it would be an interesting angle if this was going on in the city).

The 14yo whose name I picked offered that he's a men's medium and he likes hoodies (I went and got a plain one from American Eagle, which I hope is at least marginally cool)... I suppose I would think "If I ask for a hoodie I might get a nice one, but if I get a Wal-Mart card I'm stuck with a Wal-Mart hoodie." It also seemed to discourage extravagance -- as has been seen on Ask this season, there are people who will go out and get you a new bicycle. But most people will only spend so much on a blah old gift card that's going to who-knows-what.

Junkie parents did not occur to me. A spent gift card with a $0 balance looks just like a gift card with a $100 balance; you'd have to be awfully good friends with your dealer.

I'm hoping Oriole Adams's answer is what's going on...
posted by kmennie at 4:53 PM on November 27, 2008

The artist formerly known as SassHat says the definitive answer is:

"If a kid gets a gift card, he can get his mom a bubble bath set or something, maybe the only present she's going to get from anyone."
posted by mullacc at 6:31 PM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

With a Wal-Mart gift card, you can buy groceries, furniture, music, pharmaceuticals, toiletries, car repair, Internet service, etc. If the kids get cards, they may give them to their parents. Or the kids themselves may love the idea of being able to buy food and clothes they actually like. (I used to work at a food rescue & food bank. When we allowed people to go pick their own groceries off our shelves, they were so much happier than leaving it to me to decide whether they would get canned tuna or salmon.) They may use the gift cards to buy gifts for family members. Or to get family photos. Some people may even use the cards to pay down Wal-Mart credit cards, although I don't know if you're allowed to do that.

When you grow up with little money, a gift card is amazing. I grew up in a lower middle class / working class family. The summer I was 11, I won a $50 gift certificate for one department store and a $300 shopping spree for clothes at another. It made for the absolute best back-to-school I have ever had. My parents always made sure I had new school clothes, but nothing like this. I remember I spent the $50 on new red-tab Levis in black. I can also remember many of the items from the $300 spree. That's how important that was -- I remember that almost 25 years later.
posted by acoutu at 7:54 PM on November 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

If you never had any money for yourself, you at least want a gift card at a place where you can get the most for the least. Some kids really dread having to ask their parents for things, especially if their parents can't afford anything or can't see their point of view. It's such a relief to just go ahead and buy your own stuff instead of having to explain why you want it. The best thing you can do for a poor 14-year old is encourage him to get a job. (and hope he doesn't use the money to take up smoking etc).
posted by serena15221 at 8:16 PM on November 27, 2008

When I was working with one of these things, we discovered that the kids were asking for gift cards to places where their family could go grocery shopping. If they are asking for a gift card, very often they do it so that they can make sure their little brother gets to have his favorite box of mac and cheese instead of the store brand for a change. Or the parents are filling the thing out and want the card for necessities. We used to give the gift card for whatever we could and give the kid some board games or sports balls too.
posted by legotech at 8:16 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

>I suppose I would think "If I ask for a hoodie I might get a nice one, but if I get a Wal-Mart card I'm stuck with a Wal-Mart hoodie."

Gyah, for a lot of people a Wal-Mart hoodie IS a nice one, simply because it's new and not a hand-me-down. I don't think everyone sees Wal-Mart with the disdain that you seem to.
posted by losvedir at 9:52 PM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wal-Marts, as others have mentioned, often sell groceries. Considering that it's a parent filling out those forms, I'd say they're hoping to get money for food rather than a bunch of silly toys. Asking for a "grocery store gift card" would give that away, but with Wal-Mart they can convince you the kids are going to buy hoodies or toys or something.

And if the kids are that hungry, more power to them.
posted by mmoncur at 1:54 AM on November 28, 2008

Also, if I was a poor child who qualified for such a charity program, I might think a Wal-mart gift card was great because

(a) Wal-mart clothes are probably GREAT compared to what I have, and

(b) I can buy seven or eight entire outfits there for the price a well-meaning donor could have spent on one nice brand-name jacket.
posted by mmoncur at 1:57 AM on November 28, 2008

At age 14, there might be some things that he wants but feels guilty or embarrassed about asking for family money to buy (Clearasil, a gift for his girlfriend, condoms).
posted by salvia at 2:38 AM on November 28, 2008

when i did an adopt-a-child about 2 years ago, i got the little girls (twins) pretty much everything they asked for (and it was the first & last time i ever was in a disney store, btw). these were families from a women's shelter, but the gift-giving was for the kids only. with each girl's presents, i also threw in a gift card from some walmart-type store can't remember which one. it was in an envelope labeled 'to mommy' 'from your daughter.' that way they had the presents they asked for, and were able to to give something to their mother.
posted by msconduct at 5:18 AM on November 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

whoops. let me finish.

so i guess what i'm saying is: you've already bought the walmart hoodie. add the gift card & let the kid do whatever with it.

from another kid who grew up with xmas' that meant 'oh, look! socks & underwear! again.'
posted by msconduct at 5:21 AM on November 28, 2008 appear to be the angel of Christmas herself. You've got my respect.
posted by folara at 7:38 AM on November 28, 2008

I really like the concept of "give the gift of giving". Bravo for that.
posted by Caviar at 11:29 AM on November 28, 2008

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