Scott Taylor: What we learned from the Giving Machines donations graphic

Our staff shared a similar reaction when looking at a Church News graphic updating donations made at Giving Machines across the globe.

The bar chart cited the 10 cities — Utah’s Salt Lake City and Orem, along with New York City; London; Las Vegas; Denver; Manila, Philippines; San Jose, California; Gilbert, Arizona; and Laie, Hawaii. And the bars stretched horizontally to show Salt Lake City’s 40,000-plus donations through Dec. 19 totaling more than $1 million and corresponding bars and dollar totals for Gilbert, Orem and Las Vegas each between $500,000 and nearly $800,000.

The listing was purely random — no alphabetical order nor ranking by donation numbers or amounts.

Still, it wasn’t hard to notice Manila, Philippines, and its significantly small bar. Manila’s total donation was less than 1% of Salt Lake City’s and markedly less than other cities as well.

A look at what has been donated at Giving Machines around the world as of Dec. 19, 2019.
A look at what has been donated at Giving Machines around the world as of Dec. 19, 2019. Credit: Source, Boncom; created by Mary Archbold, Deseret News

It prompted a question among staffers: “Should we really include Manila? Does it look awkward or embarrassing?”

The Giving Machines are “vending machines” operated in the 25 days leading up to Christmas, underscoring #LightTheWorld’s season of service and helping others.

Rather than receive something purchased from the machine, an individual makes a donation by “purchasing” items ranging from $2 to $320 in cost — from food, clothing or medicine to hygiene supplies, sporting equipment or livestock. The donated items in turn are supplied through the Church’s partner charities.

Last year, Giving Machines donations from five cities — Salt Lake City, New York City, London, Gilbert and Manila — totaled $2.3 million.

A closer look at Manila’s 2019 donations through Dec. 19 and a deeper consideration of those using the Giving Machines in the Philippines’ capital city underscored why there was never any serious thought given to remove that city — or any other — from the list.

A few factors affecting donation numbers helped us look at the graphic in a different way.

First, Manila had accounted for nearly 4,000 donations by Dec. 19 — more donations than both New York City and London and not far behind the totals for San Jose and Laie.

And while contributions in Manila averaged out to less than $2.50 each, that is more a reflection on the local economy than any decreased desire to donate.

The high concentration of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Orem, Gilbert and Las Vegas results in correlating high donation totals and amounts in those cities.

Salt Lake City benefits from the several-year tradition of Giving Machines in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building at Church headquarters. The donation dollar totals there through Dec. 19 were nearly double the entire 2017 single-city campaign that debuted in Salt Lake City.

A child looks through the selection of donations available in a #LightTheWorld "giving machine" in the lobby of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City.
A child looks through the selection of donations available in a #LightTheWorld “giving machine” in the lobby of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Besides the third straight year at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the other nine locations for 2019 were: the Manhattan New York Temple in New York City; downtown Summerlin in metro Las Vegas; Denver’s Writer Square; San Jose’s Christmas in the Park; the Polynesia Cultural Center in Laie; Orem’s University Place Mall; the Water Tower Plaza in Gilbert; the Hyde Park Visitors’ Centre in London; and Manila’s TriNoma Mall.

Manila missed out on the benefit of location continuity. It’s the only repeat city where Giving Machines were placed in a new site, as TriNoma is eight kilometers north from last year’s location at SM Mall.

I’m sure Manila’s Giving Machines involvement is an opportunity that others in Mexico City, São Paulo, Auckland, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, Tokyo and elsewhere would relish having.

In my mind’s eye, I tried to imagine donors in Manila — individuals and families, particularly children and youth — who were anxious to help others. They may have had less to contribute than counterparts in the United States or United Kingdom, but no less the hope to do so.

I tried to imagine their selfless satisfaction in thinking of anonymously providing chickens, shoes or meals to someone lacking — no matter their own personal situation or need.

In short, Giving Machines donations in Manila for me paralleled an account in the New Testament.

“And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and the beheld how much the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.

“And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.

“And he called unto his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:

“For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12:41-44).

Residents in Gilbert, Arizona, gather to make their donations at a Giving Machine. Gilbert is one of 10 locations for the machines this year.
Residents in Gilbert, Arizona, gather to make their donations at a Giving Machine. Gilbert is one of 10 locations for the machines this year. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The widow’s two mites merit mention by Mark and special citation by the Savior — just as Manila’s Giving Machines donations deserve being included.

And so, the Giving Machines donation listing is not a competition nor a comparison. Rather, it’s an indicator of opportunity and of willingness. And it brings Filipinos together with Americans and Brits to participate in an international, multi-million-dollar service to the poor and the needy.