If you follow me on Facebook at all, you’ll know that this weekend Middle and Oldest (with assistance from me) started a popcorn ball sales endeavor. The motivation is to teach them about money, having their own business, accounting for expenses, etc, etc.They each earn a dollar for every ten dollars made. Another dollar goes to me (coffee money!) for my toil in the kitchen, another to charity. What we don’t use to purchase more supplies will go into savings for Christmas gifts for their beloved cousins.
Oldest has been asking me for months if we can take up residence in a stall at the local Farmer's Market, wanting to sell our garden strawberries or her home-mixed olive oil-and-vinegar dressing, requests I've politely discouraged as we lack volume in strawberries and salad dressing materials would cost us a pretty penny, not to mention I don't have an entrepreneurial bone in my body. But we got the idea for popcorn balls from a friend, whose been selling with her children the last couple weeks. Since Iowa City is all Hawkeye-crazy, she tied up their balls in black and gold ribbon and the $2 treats were gone in a flash. (Yes, you read that right—TWO dollars apiece!)
It seemed easy enough, so we began our project on Sunday afternoon with a ribbonless test batch of 8 and a sales tag of $1. Who knew how things would go in our “east side” market? Surprisingly well. For the most part, people seemed to drop everything they were doing at the sight of Middle and Oldest. “Hi, we’re selling popcorn balls,” was all Oldest said, and the ladies and gentlemen answering would reply straightaway with, “Okay. Let me get my wallet.” It gives the adage about taking candy from a baby a whole new twist.
I stood back, at the end of the driveway or on the sidewalk, the parental presence authenticating the girls’ venture, and waved a hello or called a thank you as the transaction wound down. Calm I may have appeared, but I found my heart beating crazily, my breathing shallow; I had a fierce desire to run back to our house and leave the girls on their own. A saleswoman I am not.
And guilty. I felt incredibly guilty. You might be interested to know that up until that first moment, I would not have purchased a $1 popcorn ball from children wandering the neighborhood. What are the ingredients? Who made it? Were refined sugars used? Is it organic? Those would have been my concerns. Maybe if someone came along and said, Hi Lady, we made these popcorn balls in a nut-free kitchen. They are made with organic popcorn and organic butter and sweetened with agave nectar. Then I’d bite.
Well, after a successful first day, we fancied up our product with different ingredients, adding ribbon and special wrapping and changing the price to $2. (I should note that we did use organic popcorn and rbgh-free butter in our recipe.) And shockingly, the girls made 14$ from selling six popcorn balls (if you do the math, you’ll see they got $2 in tips). I did notice some balking at the price (Two dollars? They must be really good popcorn balls!), but that didn’t stop them from purchasing. Every time a customer went off to fetch money, Oldest looked back at me, her eyes wide and eyebrows raised in surprise at the ease in which cash was filling up her little purse.
Easy as it was, $2 felt like way too much to be charging just so they could make some money for xmas presents. Until I remembered that a portion was being donated and maybe we could give more away than we planned.
My husband and I have for the most part always given away %10 percent of our income—either to a church or other organization doing work that helps people or to individuals directly. When we talk to the girls about this we talk about “giving money to God,” which is shorthand for putting our money toward purposes that line up with what we think are God’s values—caring for people, feeding the hungry, providing shelter for those in need, etc. So, when I told the girls I’d put some of the sales cash in an envelope labeled “God’s Popcorn Money,” Middle (appropriately a literalist at 5 years old) asked, “How do we just give the money to God?” And so ensued my breaking-down-of-the-figurative language for the little one, about how we wanted to put the money toward helping people, which led me to recall a blog I’ve been reading recently by a woman named Carrien.
She’s a homeschooling mom of four, living in SoCal with her husband. Together they are raising money and expanding an operation called The Charis Project for a children’s home in Thailand. The kids there are mostly orphaned Burmese children, many of whom have fled their country of origin to escape from the government's attacks on minority ethnic groups. Many of the chilren's parents and other family members have been murdered during attacks on their villages. Just last week Carrien was asking for donations and/or letter-writers for some of these children, who so desperately need friends.
So, in the middle of our conversation, the girls and I went to the Charis Project web site and read about 11-year-old Saewang*. My voice caught in my throat as I read aloud to the girls about his interest in art, how he wants to be a teacher when he grows up, and how his parents were killed during the conflicts in Burma. Oldest had tears in her eyes, and she decided right then and there where she thought we should send God's popcorn money. Middle and I agreed.
*If you are interested in getting involved or sponsoring one of these children, please check out the web site links above and you'll see how to go about it.