Even old fashioned candy shops have to charge tax. But that posed a problem when neighborhood children would arrive at 38th and Grand’s with a dollar even and not a dollar and eight cents. One little girl cried.
“It was horrible,” Sugar Sugar’s owner Joni Wheeler said.
Because Wheeler does not have a heart of stone, she decided to pay the tax herself rather than turn away tearful children empty handed. But in just the first week that Sugar Sugar Candy was open for business, Wheeler had given away $20 and realized it wasn’t a practice she could keep up.
Wheeler had a choice between being the Willy Wonka of Southwest–with the jars, shelves and bowls in her cozy shop filled with a tantalizing variety of brightly-wrapped, sweet tooth satisfying treats, or the mean aunt who tells the kids to go home and eat an apple instead. A lucky encounter with a customer inspired her to get creative.
About one year and four months ago, as Wheeler handed a man the 15 cents change for his purchase, he declined it and said, “Keep the change.” This brief interaction was the impetus for Sugar Sugar’s ‘Tax for Kids Fund.’ Rather than a tip jar–Wheeler doesn’t believe in tipping in retail environments–she set out a jar next to the cash register labeled ‘Tax for Kids Fund.’
The idea was simple: customers who might be inclined to drop small change into a tip jar or penny jar could use this instead. And when a little girl or boy came to buy a dollar’s worth of candy without eight cents for the government, Wheeler could find the requisite change in the jar.
The jar was an immediate success. In fact, it was so successful that in 16 months, the jar accumulated an excess of $120. This inspired Wheeler to do something more with it. Wanting to do something that would benefit the neighborhood, she decided to donate the money to a local charity.
“The best thing is that kids put money in it all the time,” Wheeler said. “They don’t just take from it; they’re insistent on giving.”
In the running were The Aliveness Project, Joyce Food Shelf and Harriet Tubman Center. Keeping with the spirit of the Tax for Kids Fund, and because children had been so involved with it, Wheeler chose to let the kids decide where the money would go.
One thing Wheeler didn’t anticipate was the educational side of this philanthropic endeavor. Kids are curious and they like asking questions. While questions inside a candy shop are generally along the lines of ‘Which gummy bear is chewier?’, once Wheeler launched the nonprofit poll, she found herself fielding questions about AIDS and domestic violence. The kids wanted to make informed decisions regarding which nonprofit to vote for and Wheeler was put in the position of the informer, talking about local organizations working on serious issues.
While Wheeler was surprised by this turn of events, she ultimately saw it as a positive thing.
“If you’ve got the opportunity to educate, you might as well make the most of it,” she said.
After leaving an open poll on the counter next to the Tax for Kids Fund for a few weeks, the Harriet Tubman Center, which helps families in crisis, was the clear winner.
Mike Stephenson, communications manager at Tubman, said the organization is thrilled and honored to receive the donation. In the current economy, demand for services at Tubman is high and the organization appreciates any help the community can provide. This donation, however, was special for another reason.
“When you look at youth taking initiative, it means that much more,” Stephenson said.
Joni Wheeler plans to make this a tradition, donating the excess Tax for Kids Fund money to a local charity each time the fund accumulates around $100.