Caught in the Wrapture
For this writer, back to school means fundraiser burnout as her kiddos go door-to-door like Jehovah’s Witnesses, selling miles of gift wrap.
By Stephanie Hunt
So, finally, it's back to school--which means one thing, at least in my neighborhood: Sally Foster.
If you've never been propositioned to "buy some Sally Foster,” you must live in a blissful bubble, far from the innocent underage hordes each year who are lured into being the de-facto booster club for their school, scout troop, or soccer club. Maybe you hail from a utopia where education is not chronically under-funded, and PTA doesn't stand for "Please Take my Assets." For the rest of us who know that "school papers" these days means wrapping paper as much as math worksheets, stocking up on Sally Foster has become an annual ritual, like cramming the freezer full of Thin Mints when it's Girl Scout cookie season. I'm already harboring enough tangled curling ribbon and star-spangled gift wrap to hide various weapons of mass destruction.
With the first jittery day of school under their belt, the kids rush home, flashing eager smiles, freshly sharpened pencils, and a flyer. "Go for the Good Stuff!" it entices. "You can get them all!" The marketing bait was effective; the tri-fold brochure of gleaming prizes caught my second-grader's eye. Before she'd fully opened the Sally Foster Gift Wrap racket, I mean packet, she had scrutinized the 10 potential electro-gizmo prizes. She's going for the Set of Text Messengers, in the upper mid-range on the loot list, obviously having forgotten that every other Sally Foster prize her older sisters earned during their elementary school sales career has been robustly disappointing. Nonetheless, she's determined to sell the 100 to 139 items required. Doable, perhaps, if she gets out there immediately, before every other school age kid in a 20-mile radius begins trolling the same territory, hell bent on hawking Sallyware.
And let’s not forget the non-Christmas crowd—Sally’s expanded territory has a nice ecumenical touch, with Sally's Chanukah Essentials and the Solid Chocolate Dreidel. Now, not only can you buy an assortment of all-occasion gift wrap, gift ribbon, gift tags and gift bags from your friendly neighborhood fourth-grader, you can buy gifts, too. Spatulas, a portable tool set, candles and more candles, photo coasters, gourmet chocolates galore, and NEW this year, the eucalyptus and spearmint-infused Sally Foster Foot, Leg & Hand Therapy Creams. I hear there's even a push to add a Sally Foster vibrator to next year's line up.
So who is this persona-on-gifta who shows up in various bright polka dot, glimmering snowflake or cutesy pet motifs at every birthday party and under every Christmas tree? While American school kids these days probably recognize the name Sally Foster more readily than, say, Sandra Day O'Connor or Emily Dickinson, gift givers don't actually know much about her. Unlike our other brand name matrons, Martha and Oprah, Sally stays under the radar, even in her own catalogue.
Mrs. Sally Davidson Foster of Greenville, South Carolina, former fundraising chairperson for her children's school and Deacon of First Presbyterian Church of Spartanburg, makes only a mere cameo, a stiff head-and-shoulders of a sufficiently pleasant looking woman with careful hair and a measured smile, whose green silk blouse and red lipstick nicely accent her many Christmas gift wrap selections.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for fundraising: I can get into a bidding frenzy at a school auction, eat a case of World's Finest Chocolate bars, and hit up distant relatives to buy Sally Foster. I'm delighted to know that a full 50 percent of each $8 roll of glossy, extra thick wrapping paper goes to my kids' school technology and playground budgets. But I'm not so happy about turning young students into little Jehovah's Witnesses, going door-to-door to spread the gift-wrap gospel, so their school can afford the "extras" left out of school budgets that barely cover the basics.
The fact remains that the other $4 of every roll of Playful Angels paper goes ultimately to the coffers of Sally Foster's parent company's parent company (talk about a complex PTA). Sally Foster belongs to Entertainment Publications, which was acquired by InterActive Corp., or IAC, the owner of Ask Jeeves (which I used to search for Sally Foster bio info), Ticketmaster, Expedia, LendingTree, Home Shopping Network, Match.com and Hotels.com. IAC seeks to "be engaged in businesses transformed by the Internet," and pays its CEO, Barry Diller, over $50 million a year, one of the highest compensation packages in the US, to "harness the power of interactivity."
So let's see, we're sending our kids door-to-door and paying the equivalent of what a neacpaperback costs for gift wrap that will get torn, crumpled and trashed in two seconds or less, so Mr. Diller and company can rack up obscene bonuses off of building Internet-based businesses. Meanwhile, half of my kids' classrooms don't even have Internet access.
The irony is that as we harness more "interactive" power and buy and ship our birthday and holiday gifts online, we won't need matching wrapping paper and ribbon. Perhaps it makes sense to just give the school some cash and do what my husband does, despite having 12 shiny rolls of Sally Foster to choose from: he grabs the funny papers from the recycling bin, deftly tucks in the corners with tape, and voila, that about wraps it up. Besides, he reminds me, weren't we trying to teach our kids that it's what is on the inside that counts?
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Contributing editor Stephanie Hunt's last piece for SoMA was It's Not Just About the Bike.
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