Wednesday, October 15, 2008

So happy to see that thing

I have been remiss in not mentioning this year's Tomato Nation Fall Contest, where the great Sarah Bunting unleashes her readers on Donors Choose. People sponsor dozens of projects in underfunded K-12 classrooms across the country, in increments large and small...and last year, Sars whipped up more than $100,000 freaking dollars. She also danced around in Rockefeller Plaza wearing a tomato costume to reward us all, but that bit is really just the condiment on your bacon-and-lettuce sandwich, because A HUNDRED GRAND. FOR THE CHILDREN.

Times are tough, I surely don't have to tell you. Cartoon moths are flying out of my wallet just like they are yours, and everyone else's. But Sars puts it quite succinctly in her call to action this year, and this is the part that stuck with me:

...maybe you want to give money to your presidential candidate of choice, and the bailout crisis…well, the average taxpayer is going to get punished, without having even done anything wrong.

So is the average public-school student. The government is going to help these investment firms eventually; in a few days Congress is going to ram something through and bail out the big boys. Little boys? Ain't getting squat. Your senator isn't debating who gets what science books or overhead projectors right now, or how much money to earmark for waterlogged Galveston schools. No, it looks like that's on us.

One of the excellent things about Donors Choose is that, if you donate $100 and/or fully fund a project, you get a little packet of notes and photos from the teacher and kids in question. I contributed to a couple projects last year--a set of novels for one class, a set of art supplies for another--and got a tide of responses, one of which I've kept on the fridge since. It's on day-glo orange paper, each word written in a different eye-popping color of oil pastel crayon, and signed by a kid named, to my delight, Eugene:

THANK you FOR THE ART supplies I AM SO HAPPY TO see THAT Thing

Me too, Eugene, me too.

Today was payday, at last, and tonight I clicked through the projects and got choked up in spite of myself, and donated half again what I'd intended going in. I put a few of my dollars toward yoga mats for preschoolers, and an entire stack of Judy Blumes for an elementary class (because ol' Judy is the patron saint of 5th-grade English, bless her), and bowling lessons for a group of special-needs kids, because I am famously a worse bowler than Barack Obama and maybe if someone had intervened when I was still in the primary grades I would not find the lanes so humbling today.

So. Dig through the couch cushions, empty out the spare change in your car's ashtray, and get clicking. Do it for Eugene, and the little bowlers and yogis and readers, or photographers, or playwrights, or budding scientists just itching to dissect owl doots. If that's not enough of an incentive for you, maybe this will be: this year, if we crack the same total, Sars and her tomato suit are headed to Washington, D.C. to help George and Laura pack. Or to be wrestled to the ground on the White House lawn by the Secret Service, whichever. The suit looks nice and cushy and padded, probably for the best.

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