Sunday, December 05, 2010

Taking what is not yours is ... stealing

This time every year we run a Christmas party for the children and their parents/carers who bring them regularly.

We provide party food for the children and the adults are asked to bring food or give £3 towards food. We give each child and adult a Christmas present.

The money for the food and presents comes from what is left over from the £1.50 we collect every week, after we have provided drinks and biscuits for both children and adults, craft materials for the children, etc. We also invest in new toys and equipment regularly.

Mdm P is a parent who usually arrives quite late. Sometimes after I've put my moneybox away and I would say, "Pay next week." But she'd forget to pay the following week, especially if someone else was standing in for me.

In fact, even if she did come early-ish, she would shuffle about, taking ages to look for her money. Sometimes I have to confront her (which I find very embarrassing) to say, "Have you registered?" and she would claim that she had "forgotten" to pay me.

Also, she has friends calling on her virtually every week come coffee time. And without asking for permission -- even as a courtesy -- she would invite her friend/s to get a coffee and biscuits.

We are not a miserly lot, but we have seen her walking away with a stack of biscuits about four inches high. Whatever she does not finish, she takes away.

We wondered at one point if she was so poor she could not pay the £1.50. If this was the case we would waive her payment, as we have done with another family where the father had not found employment for some time.

However we noticed that Mdm P could afford to send her child to the most expensive nursery in the area. So though she is a non-working mother, she obviously is not short of money.

Last Friday, before she arrived, we had a young mother with multiple body piercings come in saying she had been invited by Mdm P to the party.

What? How dare she invite someone to our Christmas party?

We said she (Mdm P) shouldn't have done that because we did not have a present for the child, etc. The mother looked annoyed and scowled at me. If I were her I would have left at this point. But she stuck on.

We asked her if she intended to attend regularly. She said "no". Which means she would not be contributing towards this party after the event either.

In the end we decided that it was not very Christian not to let this young woman stay. (No room at the inn and all that.) We found an old Christmas present for her little girl.

Then Mdm P arrived. I was busy making sure the hall was set up correctly for the second part of the programme (called the "changeover").

When the children and parents came back from the other hall I noticed that Mdm P had brought along ANOTHER friend (AF) AND a teenage girl (TG), presumeably the daughter of this AF. These two were at Toddlers the week before. (Why was the teenager not at school?)

For child protection reasons we have strict rules about signing people in. Also in case of fire, I need to account for all those signed in. Just drifting in like these two women did was not acceptable. Mdm P knew that.

Nevertheless they sat down and started tucking into the food.

Word came to me that some other mother(s) have complained that Mdm P should not have brought her friends (two adults, one teenager, one toddler). I was given the task of telling Mdm P off.

I waited for the right moment and did. Mdm P justified it by saying that her friends brought food. That is, they did not come empty-handed, and so were just eating their fair share of the food.

OK, I gave her the benefit of the doubt on this matter, and reported it to my "boss". It was not possible to prove that her friends did bring food. I only noticed that they did not stop eating. TG was constantly going back to the table to get more food.

I was also detailed to hand out gifts to the mums and dads and carers who come regularly.

Mdm P and friends watched me carefully. Then when I was called away to see to another matter and a young lady was standing in for me, they cornered her.

When I returned to my station my young assistant (YA) told me that TG had asked for a gift. She tried telling her that it was only for those who came regularly. TG apparently told my YA that her niece comes regularly and therefore should be given a gift.

When I returned to my station TG had the cheek to come back to ask for an exchange of her gifts saying she preferred the one with the purple toiletries. At this point though I hadn't be given a full account of what went on, I had the impression that she should not have been given a gift at all.

I asked, "Who's your niece who comes regularly?"

TG gave a name. It was not a name I recognized. AF (her mum?) corrected her. Suspicion: it was not her "niece". TG held on to her gift which I had refused to exchange. I should have just taken it back at that point.

Her mum said, "You could swop." Meaning TG could swop with Mdm P. (Confirmation: Both Mdm P and TG had taken a gift.)

This morning I had the chance to speak with my YA who told me that TG had told her "her niece comes regularly" but was ill that day and so should be able to collect a gift. Then YA told me that the older women were with her, telling the same story, and practically snatched the gift from her hands.

It was an utter and blatant lie. Not only did the TG lied. The older women with her colluded.

Whatever for? For a Christmas gift worth £5 that we were giving away!

On one hand I felt that if they were so desperate then they need those toiletries much more than I do. On the other, I realized that they were stealing, plain and simple.

If this girl were to go into the store next door, take those toiletries and tell security that her mum usually shops there, would they let her leave with those toiletries?

I am minded to make Mdm P pay. When our sessions resume I shall ask her to pay £1 or 50p extra every week until we get our £5 back.

Dilemma: Should I, as a Christian, quibble over £5? Or do Mdm P and her friend and TG and the other mother (with piercings) who came to the party need to be told they are simply taking from someone who had paid for those things. In other words, they have been stealing?

Has anyone told them that this is not a "something for nothing" society? Or were they doing this because they are so used to a "something for nothing" society?

Do they think that just because we are a church they could come in and take advantage of us?

I have been very patient with Mdm P. She has refused to cooperate where her child's discipline is concerned. This group is not benefitting her daughter at all. If we continue to be so generous with her, is it equivalent to casting pearls before swine?

There have been times when people say to me, "You are a church, aren't you?" as if just because we are a church they could take advantage of us.

Eg when they try to pay £1.50 in 1p copper pieces, I kid you not. I would say I am not obliged to take more than 20p in coppers and they would say, "You are a church ...."

We may be representatives of God's church, but we are not doormats. Do not step all over me.

Should I or should I not make Mdm P pay up for the toiletries TG took?