Charity begins?…?at 52% of homes

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Never mind beauty, charity is clearly in the eye of the beholder.

Wanganui mayor Michael Laws reminded us of that the other day when he attacked TV3’s Telethon – and particularly the benefiting charity KidsCan – as an unnecessary project more likely to create dependency than reduce it.

The KidsCan charity supplies food in the shape of muesli bars, fruit pottles and other essentials to 8500 of an apparent 18,500 needy schoolchildren each week.

A recent waiting list revealed 32,000 kids at 158 schools hoping for assistance in procuring raincoats, food or shoes.

KidsCan hope the $2 million-plus raised by the 23-hour Telethon will enable them to assist the 10,000 children still waiting for supplementary food.

The charity has hit back at Laws, saying the initiative not only helped needy children but also allowed schools to identify those who required regular assistance – and in serious cases, investigate whether further support was warranted.

As a result, manager Julie Helson said, the first 100 schools receiving the assistance were now requiring less.

Whatever you might think of that, Laws went on to make a couple of not unreasonable points when he questioned the top-heavy administration costs of many of today’s charities, and the unseemly transition of what used to be a community activity into a highly-commercialised industry.

What he couldn’t deny, however, was that the country’s first Telethon of the 21st century was another ratings success.

The final amount raised might have been modest by historical standards but we’re in the middle of a recession, after all.

And whatever was raised in terms of charity would have paled into insignificance when compared with the extra advertising boost received by the channel.

TV3 are talking about viewing numbers being up 24 per cent on the Saturday 8-9pm slot, up 58 per cent for the Sunday noon-1pm hour – and a massive 108 per cent later that evening between 5-6pm.

The channel claimed 2,083,100 people – 52.5 per cent of the population aged five or over – watched the Telethon at some stage of the weekend.

Anecdotal evidence seems to support this. My mother-in-law, who has long resisted any temptation to stray from TV One took the plunge over the weekend and enjoyed the seamless nonsense so much she forgot where she was and inadvertently watched the TV3 news for the first time in her life.

The 20-somethings had a look, laughed about the inanity of it all, and then sat down beside their grandmother for a better view. Their mother happened by, caught a glimpse of something completely naff and, as if in a trance, joined the gathering to see if there would be any more.

The dog arranged himself on the mat and watched too.

As deeply disturbing as that all was, it was still hard to share the depth of Laws’ concern. When the biggest problem of the day involves New Zealanders giving money away to less fortunate New Zealanders, it would seem we don’t have much to worry about.