Community Support Is A Funny Thing

Occasionally an economic situation will come up that somewhat baffles me.   Today’s thought comes from the inequity of how people decide to spend their giving dollars.  Now I fully believe that everyone should be able to spend their money as they see fit.  You want to spend every cent of it on video games cool with me.  A McMansion or a Hummer, go right ahead.  Donate it, burn it, invest it, its your money to do with what you choose.  I’m not talking about individual decisions, I’m talking about us as a group and the factors that lead us to make those decisions.   This article is a rant and not a fully thought out essay, so bear with me.

This morning I came across a Facebook post linking to a local book store that is struggling due to being shut down for 2 months directly following the slow season of winter.  This book store is a small business, operated and owned by a local resident.  It’s located in a tourist town that sees most of its business in the summer months of May – September.  The fact that a physical book store still exists is nothing short of amazing, and I commend the owner for doing everything she can to keep it operating.  I also think it is great that the community is coming together to help keep a business open. (The true solution is to protest our defacto Queen in Michigan and get our businesses reopened, not set up dozens of Gofundmes to support them, but that’s another article.)

Now for the criticism.

The owner launched a Gofundme effort targeting an $80,000 raise to allow the book store to operate for the next few months.  In 6 days $18,000+ was raised from 270+ donors. $500 has come in just in the one hour I’ve spent writing this.  Every business has different financials, and I know rent in this primary tourist walking area is very high, but this is a very large ask. I am shocked and impressed at how quickly and how much money has been raised.

almost 2 years ago a friend of mine and 5 of her children died in a hotel fire that was caused through no fault of their own.  This story made national headlines and the internet as whole condemned her for living in a hotel with her children and for having 6 children. (The hotel had been converted into long term apartments.) This happened in Benton Harbor, MI, the twin city, right next door to St. Joseph, MI where this book store is.  I’m grateful that so many people did donate, but in comparison to this current situation I am shocked at the stark contrast.  Across months, the Gofundme supporting the families funeral costs didn’t raise enough money for final expenses, much less an extra fund to help Kiarre’s husband and daughter try to rebuild their lives.  It raised $7,660 from 113 donors. (There also were other donations through the school and her church, though I don’t know the total of these) This was a major help to the family and I’m not knocking this response, I’m just demonstrating the vast differences in the two Gofundme campaigns. (People did also donate outside of the Gofundme through the school raising money and church donations). How does a bookstore receive more love than an entire family dying in such a tragic accident?

  • Is it because people really love books and physical book stores?
  • Is it because the book store is located in a comparative wealthy community compared to the relatively poor community right across the bridge?
  • Is it because the average customer at this book store is wealthy or at least middle class, while the average friend of Kiarre’s was not?
  • Are people more giving during an economic recession than at the height of the longest economic expansion in history?
  • Does race play a role in it?
  • It can’t be media attention, because the family’s death was in our newspapers and on TV news for weeks.  It actually became a media circus to some extent.  Articles on it were published in every corner of the globe in multiple languages.  Everyone knew it happened.  By comparison this campaign for the book store has had very little press.  1 mention in a local business news publication.
  • Could it be that the bookstore is to help with a future event (cash flow going forward) Vs. the death’s which had already happened?

Besides the money you also have the human reaction.  Many comments towards Kiarre and her children’s deaths were incredibly horrible.  People stated she deserved it, that she was a welfare leach, that her children would have grown up to be criminals. (I talked about and debunked all these things in this article). But there are virtually no comments suggesting that this business should have had a 6 month emergency fund, or adapted better to e-commerce, or rented a less expensive location.  No negative comments at all, just love and support.  While a family that was doing everything they could to stay together as a family woke up to a smoke filled room at 2 o clock in the morning (and according to many accounts without the sound of any smoke alarms) and most didn’t make it out they are obviously in the wrong.  It just doesn’t square well with me.

Once again, I am not saying people should not donate to save this book store.  I’m not saying it is wrong that people are donating, or that they should stop.  I don’t think it is wrong for the owner to ask for help. I am not against this book store in any way.  I think its wrong that our Governor put this business along with thousands of others in this situation.  I am just completely missing the boat of how this situation has received a bigger community response on a monetary level than Kiarre and her children’s deaths on a macro level.


I don’t know, what do you think?  Am I being crazy or unreasonable to compare the 2 situations? What do you think about the disparity between which causes get supported and which don’t?

John C. started Action Economics in 2013 as a way to gain more knowledge on personal financial planning and to share that knowledge with others. Action Economics focuses on paying off the house, reducing taxes, and building wealth. John uses the free tool Personal Capital to track his net worth and posts quarterly updates on his finances. Check out the Action Economics archives section for all past posts.

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