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Slices of Life Along the Fox: Putting the fun in fundraising

Misadventures in door-to-door sales

Have you eaten all your Girl Scout cookies yet? I always get at least a couple of boxes if for no other reason than they bring back memories of my first forays into fundraising. I was a rules follower, so I didn’t head into my neighborhood until the first morning we were allowed to sell. Of course, I found it disappointing that so many people on our block had already ordered theirs. I was certain someone must be cheating. It never occurred to me that maybe they didn’t want any cookies and that was a polite way of telling me “not this year.”

I moved on to selling fruitcakes in high school to raise money for a band trip to Washington, D.C. I learned then a sales principle that has played out for me personally throughout my career: I am not able to sell things I don’t believe in. Texas fruitcakes may be the best dessert around … for people who like fruitcake. But $5 for one of those things was a complete waste of money in my book. I subscribe to the Johnny Carson theory that in this world there is really only one fruitcake and people just keep giving it to each other as a gift at Christmas.

My brother, Jim, had something much more appealing to sell when he came along seven years later. Fine Chocolates selling for $2 a box. These were so fine, as a matter of fact, that he and my other brother, John, made the very poor decision to eat the candy themselves. Twenty-five boxes worth over several weeks. And, of course, Jim did not have the money to pay for them.

John was in his 20s and headed off to Europe and the Middle East on a one-way ticket with the dream of exploring the world. Jim’s debt to the band fund remained unpaid for some period of time. Until Mom came home from a Band Boosters meeting one night and asked Jim about the candy money. She was none too pleased with his story.

“Well, you’re going to have to tell your father yourself,” she said.

After a few days, Jim gathered his courage and told Dad that he and John had eaten $50 worth of candy and he didn’t have the money to pay the school.

“FIF-TEEN DOLLARS,” roared Dad in his very loudest father voice.

Jim wondered if there were any additional decibels available as he meekly made the correction.

“No, $50.”

Mom and Dad sold that house in 1988, but we understand “FIFTY DOLLARS” still echoes off the walls on quiet days. Dad paid the school, and Jim worked off the money by performing hard labor (Jim’s description). To this day, he holds a vendetta against John for going to live on a kibbutz in Israel and leaving him to face the music alone.

We had our own candy-selling escapades when my sons were young and doing fundraising for St. Charles baseball. My middle son has always been quite the businessman and set out with a plan of selling the most candy bars. He knocked on door after door till he had sold all he had. This included a donation of $2 from a woman who didn’t want candy but was appreciative of his diligence.

His older brother was not quite so motivated, but covered the other side of the block nonetheless. He returned with a slightly different story. One person had given him only $1 for the bar of candy rather than the $2 it was supposed to be. He tried to correct the woman, but she just thanked him for the candy and closed the door. He didn’t even ask, but went to get $1 out of his allowance to cover the missing contribution. Brian just shook his head. “Dan, how could you let that happen? You make it clear to them … $2 per bar. And anyway, don’t give them the candy until after they give you the money.”

These days such life lessons are learned in other ways. Not too many kids go door-to-door to sell anything for all kinds of reasons. Instead they opt for safer public venues or even online sales. I appreciate that this might be one of those things that needs to be done differently. But think of all the tales that will never be a part of the family lore!

I listen to “FIFTY DOLLARS” replaying in my head as I get my box of Thin Mints out of the freezer.

“Slices of Life Along the Fox” is a column that runs every other week in the St. Charles Kane County Chronicle. Sandie Benhart has family roots in the Fox Valley dating to pre-Civil War days. She has lived in St. Charles and been active in TriCities life for many years. Feedback on this column can be sent to editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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