Donors and Dodgers by Trevor Plumbly

After donning my plastic identity vest, salting my donation bucket to ensure a guilt-producing rattle, I took up my station for the street appeal day. That’s when I met most of you, not in person of course, more in personality. The rules governing street collectors are unwritten but quite basic: don’t obstruct the footpath, don’t accost pedestrians, smile lots and thank everybody. Rule 1 makes sense in the rush hour anyway; why risk getting trampled? People dashing to earn money are hardly likely to pause for a skinny old bugger with a collection bucket whatever the cause. Rule 2 is also logical; people generally don’t like being accosted however quietly. It’s more of a red light district thing, whispers don’t really fit the charitable image any more than stentorian bellows. Rule 3 was fine for a while and I grinned at all and sundry, but rather than risk lockjaw, I reserved the smile for those who actually coughed up.

The reactions of those suddenly faced with a collection bucket were almost like public theatre. Warm smiles and donations were, to be fair, most common, followed by my personal favourite: those with a cheerful greeting and an apology for not carrying cash because a friendly word is still a form of giving. The ‘dodgers’ though were the real stars with a dazzling array of techniques to avoid eye contact. Collectively they’re mean sods and individually they’re committed to maintaining the gap between the greedy and the needy. ‘Escapist dodgers’ are fairly transparent, adopting an obsession with window displays until they pass the danger zone. The ‘zombies’ are much the same: as soon as they spot you, they morph into the living dead, mooching past, eyeing their feet until they reach their destination without parting with a few bob. Either of these two can trump you by crossing over before they reach the danger zone, but I reckon that spoils the show. The ‘Warbucks’ are the real stars; nothing should impede their progress or cause them to acknowledge anything as mundane as ordinary human traffic, let alone basic charity. They march past either in animated conversation with a fellow magnate or a cellphone, either ploy enables them to pass the donation point without being seen to be mean, or worse, actually giving anything away.

You’re an interesting lot and next year I promise that I’ll try to smile a lot more for the ‘donors’ and try to help the ‘dodgers’ overcome or avoid their fear of those less fortunate. Maybe a street sign announcing ‘Charity collection point 100 metres’ might help.

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