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Mormons in Scrooge City

On ‘Giving Tuesday’ in not-so-generous New York, Mormons try to raise money for groups like Catholic Charities via vending machine

Mormon-sponsored giving machines at 125 Columbus Ave. Handout

Mormons in Scrooge City
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A New York moment:

It’s Giving Tuesday in New York, and I paid a visit to the Mormon temple down by Lincoln Center. The Latter-day Saints had set up three beautifully designed vending machines on the busy sidewalk, where New Yorkers can “buy” items like a first aid kit for CARE International (a humanitarian organization) or a winter blanket for the local Catholic Charities or a gallon of milk for a neighborhood food pantry.

The vending machine dumps a box with a picture of the item to the bottom, like a normal vending machine. Even though the machines have only been open a couple of days, the bottom bins were piled with gifts—pacifiers, basketballs, children’s boots. Out in the blustery cold, three Mormon missionaries stood helping people make purchases and answer questions.

“We’ve seen [people purchase] a couple cows,” said Meletupou Vaka, who had a ukulele she was strumming in slow moments.

The three missionaries emphasized to browsers that none of the donations go to the LDS temple, but that 100 percent of the donation goes to the item you purchase. The LDS organization covers any overhead costs associated with the item. A vending machine in Salt Lake City, Utah, last year raised about half a million dollars, they said, and now there are other machines in London and the Philippines.

Speaking of Mormons, Utah is much more charitable than New York. Last week I came across this map of charitable giving by county in the United States. The Bible Belt and the Mormon-Belt in Utah come out looking good, while the Northeast and Wisconsin look pretty stingy. Maybe Mormons can get New Yorkers into a charitable mood this Christmas.

Worth your time:

Meet the New York City official who makes $1.7 million a year by collecting debts on behalf of predatory lenders. The office of city marshal goes back to Dutch colonial days in New York, and the payment scheme hasn’t changed much since then. The marshals get a cut of whatever debt they collect.

Most of the debt comes from small-business owners who find themselves in a tight spot and turn to a predatory lender. One month after a plumber had borrowed $6,837, a marshal went after him and got the plumber’s bank to freeze his entire account. The plumber paid the marshal $13,453 to unfreeze his account.

This week I learned:

Many Chinese car buyers don’t like the “new car smell” that Americans love, and now Ford is finding a new way to get rid of it.

A court case you might not know about:

The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 in the dusky gopher frog case today, sending the dispute over the endangered frog’s habitat back to lower courts for further consideration on the definition of “habitat.” The frog hasn’t lived on the land under dispute since 1965, but its legal journey to possibly live on that land some day in the future continues.

Culture I am consuming:

We re-watched The Godfather over Thanksgiving. If you’re going to make a movie with a three-hour running time, it’d better be this good. Others in the stellar three-hour category: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Barry Lyndon; and Amadeus.

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