Mondays are for mistakes and some mistakes I’ve made become almost mythical. In today’s mistake, I may have forgotten some exact details but the story remains.
I call it the purple coat story. Truth is the coat may not have been purple. It could have been pink. Or blue. But for me it’s the purple coat story.
The first year working with our school we did a winter clothing drive. We even tried to be smart about it. We asked the school for specific sizes of coats, boots, snow pants and other winter gear. We took the size information and made a neat little bulletin board. Our church people took an item off the board, went shopping, and dropped off the items to me. I’d take the items over to the school and pretty much felt like Santa Claus dropping off these awesome brand new coats.
And snow pants.
And hats to our new school partner.
It felt good to help kids who needed these items.
It felt good to help kids be able to go outside for recess and not get frostbite.
It felt good to provide for a real need for kids who literally lived right in our backyard.
It didn’t feel as good a couple days later when the principal called and said we had a problem.
I was expecting the “thank you so much” call.
The “what would we do without you” call.
The “this is the most generous and awesomest thing ever” call.
Instead it was the “we’ve got a problem” call.
Our good deed of donating winter gear had created numerous headaches for the school and a bit of class warfare between students. One student wanted a purple coat like her friend got instead of the black one she got. Thus the purple coat story.
Another student wanted the same brand of snow pants his brother got.
And that was only the beginning. I later learned some students would go home with the snow pants or boots and then forget to bring them to school . . . they still couldn’t play outside!
My mistake? Thinking about me and what worked best for me (and my church) and not what worked best for the school. The mistake wasn’t the kids needed winter gear. They did. The mistake was in how I fulfilled the need. I thought I was helping the school by getting the size information so our people could pick up exactly what was needed. But what I thought was administrative wisdom was a mistake!
Today we don’t even do a winter clothing drive. And it’s not because there’s anything wrong with them, we’ve just learned to rely more on the school. They tell us if there are needs. If there are, we send over a gift card or two so they can go out and make the purchase. Rather than one big drive where we dump a bunch of items at the school for them to manage, we’re a bit more in step with each other. We rely on the school’s expertise and knowledge so when they identify needs, we resource them to best meet those needs.
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