Gaming Systems – Below the Poverty Level

School Choir of an Elementary School in the Un...
What's with the singing? These kids should be at home choosing whether to play their WII, XBox 360, or PS3. Image via Wikipedia

This post may be the one that finally pushes me into the bowels of hell (if you believe in such a place).

Today, I became aware of a holiday project undertaken by several classes at a Fort Leonard Wood elementary school. Rather than the typical gift exchange prior to the holiday season, each class adopts a family (mainly children) that is presumably living in a state of poverty. The idea is that the school’s children and their families pool resources and gifts in order for this family’s youngsters to have a truly merry holiday season. In most circles, this is called Adopt-a-Family.

I’ve seen several of these programs, and often the family is lavished with an amazing amount of gifts, from toys to clothing. It benefits the designated family, but it also shows you that generosity is not dead. In the end, it is usually a win-win situation for everyone involved. It is nice to see this particular elementary school teaching its students how good it feels to give.

But, lets face it, I’m not writing this as a touchy-feely post that will make you feel all fuzzy and full of holiday cheer. Nope, I’ve got a gripe.


The following is a list of the childrens’ (boy and girl ages 8-10) “wants” (with my commentary):

  • Clothes. No problem. Clothes are a practical and sometimes stylish gift that facilitates warmth and social acceptance. Great. Don’t forget the pajamas. I believe state law requires the giving of jammies during the holidays (and socks).
  • Books. Wonderful! I have faith in these children already. Stock is rising.
  • Art Supplies. Nurturing creativity. Applause all-around.
  • Kids DVDs. OK, not something that a child psychologist would smile upon, but I’m as much a fan of a good movie as anyone. I’ll get them a copy of “The Cat From Outer Space.”
  • Action Figures/Nerf Toys/Transformers/Zhu Zhu Pets/Hannah Montana Stuff. OK, I have the urge to vomit a bit, but these are kids after all. I must allow them certain superfluous niceties. All kids want toys, and they are no different. Although, what the hell is a Zhu Zhu Pet? Are we sure this isn’t something snuck-onto the list by Mommy for her nefarious purposes? We may never know. Finally, no child’s list is complete without paying homage to one of the genetically engineered Disney children (in this case, Hannah Montana).
  • Wii Games. OK, OK. Calming myself. This is a family that is in need, but its OK for them to have just one gaming console, right? After all, everyone needs some recreation, so we can allow them to have just this one guilty extra, right?
  • XBox 360 Games. That’s it. They pushed me over the edge. I’m calling bullshit.

Not one, but two electronic gaming systems–and the latest generation of said gaming systems, no less.

Now, before you label me as a horrible, hard-hearted jerk, consider this. I agree that people in our nation should be free to apportion their money for their own purposes. I am a libertarian after all. I also agree that people deserve a little entertainment and superfluous purchases now and then, and I believe that people of all income levels deserve happiness.

I am also not anti-video-game. My household has one gaming console, and it is rigidly monitored and controlled. You will not find a pile of random games. Instead, you will find a small number of carefully selected games. To me, it is the ultimate in unnecessary entertainment, and it is treated as such in my home.

I also believe that our choices largely determine our future opportunities.

This family signed-onto the Adopt-a-Familyish program in this area through one of the charitable organizations. Perhaps they sought the program, or maybe it was offered by the charitable folks. Either way, they voluntarily submitted to be the beneficiaries of others’ goodwill. They established that income and status placed them below a certain level of fiscal ability.

Now, they demonstrate to us that they have two gaming consoles. Consider also that these gaming systems require a television. In fact, the XBox 360 is capable of HiDef output. Do we believe that they are attached to a 1970s RCA ColorTrak Console TV? I think not. I think it is much more reasonable to assume that these two systems are tethered to a more modern and capable television. I’d go so far as to say it is either Plasma or LCD.

Do they have the right to buy as much electronic crud as their paychecks and credit cards will allow? Sure. But, I draw the line when they then hold themselves out as needy and worthy of the charity of others.  I’m probably a bit jaded. After all, I witnessed, first hand, refugees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita using their FEMA/Red Cross debit cards to buy heaps of DVDs, CDs, and video games–only days after I opened my wallet substantially to the cause. I understand why so many resist charitable participation.

Oh, don’t worry, I’ll contribute. I always do. After all, this is the giving time of year, no matter our gripes.

I want to give them jammies, but my teenager suggested something that would better facilitate their happiness and holiday joy.

A surge protector.

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4 thoughts on “Gaming Systems – Below the Poverty Level

  1. My law school has a table set up where you can go pick out some kids to shop for via the Salvation Army’s Christmas Angel program. Children from needy families make requests of things they’d like for Christmas, plus their clothing and shoe sizes are given. I just got back from that table a little bit ago, and I too was struck by how many kids listed those kinds of toys and electronics. I mean, we’re all poor law students here, so what happens is that the kids whose two choices are “bike” and “Xbox 360” don’t get picked by anyone. And, even if I did have enough money to be able to spend that much on Christmas presents for others, I wouldn’t buy those gifts out of principle. Are you kidding me? Instead, I picked a girl who wants some dress-up clothes and a baby boy who needs a bouncer. That’s much more my speed.

    1. Join-up with a few other law students, pool your resources, and get the kid a bike. Assuming he is 5-10 years old, you can find a decent bike for around $50 at Target or WalMart.

      Bikes warm my heart. XBoxes do not.

      All the same, kudos on participating in the program. You’re alright in my book.

  2. Well, let me offer another possibility, namely, that the basics were mostly covered by family and friends, and these were the “stretch” requests.

    Although I don’t really believe it either. One year my family adopted another, and when we went to deliver the goodies, we were greeted by several surly faces, suspiciously inspecting the packages, and sniffing “Is that all?” at a few hundred dollars worth of clothes and games. (Pre X-box, Wii,etc.) That was the last time we volunteered.

    But when your life sucks badly (as it does when you are really poor, not just broke), you may chose to reach for something that makes you feel better, even if it is not the best choice. I do understand that this may be part of why they are in the situation they are in…

    1. I’ve really tried to see this from the most positive point of view. After all, Buck O’Neil is one of my personal heroes, and he saw the positive in any situation. I just can’t get past the two different gaming systems (plus supporting hardware).

      Our modern society certainly has its share of strange and diverse pathologies.

      I am also sorry to hear about your personal experience. You sought to bring joy to another family, and your attempt (apparently) failed (by no fault of your own). As a collateral consequence, you have an unfortunate memory of an event that should have brought you equal amounts of the joy you sought to deliver.

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