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Buying out a KMart

May 24th, 2012
giving

Kentucky businessman Rankin Paynter bought the remaining inventory of a KMart that was going out of business, and gave it all to a charity. He spent $200K to buy the stuff, and is spending more to rent a building to store winter clothing until the charity is ready for it.

This makes me happy and sad at the same time. Happy because it's wonderful to see such generosity. Sad because it could have gone so much further.

Charities can generally do much more with money than stuff. Some of the items left over in a going out of business sale are going to be exactly what Clark County Community Services wants, but many of them are not. If he had given the money directly to them, they could have bought what they needed most.

Or you could give the money directly to local families. Then they can buy what they need most. If you think you know more about what they need than they do and are afraid they won't spend it well, you can give gift certificates.

And then there's the question of whether these are the people that can be helped in the most cost effective way. I think they're probably not. In regions where malaria is prevalant you can save lives for about $1700 each by distributing antimalarial nets. A gift of a winter coat can mean a lot to a poor family, but if the same money distributes 100 winter coats as saves one life through net distribution [1] I think you do a lot better with the nets.

There's a culture of not critisizing people who give generously, and I think in many ways it's healthy. I do think what Mr. Paynter did was great, and I don't want to disuade people from acting similarly. But the good you do is a combination of how much you do and what you choose to do and the more people make their donations go farther, the more the positive impact of giving grows.


[1] Taking $17 as the cost of buying the coat at KMart's going out of business sale and then distributing it to someone who needs it. This is 1/100th of the $1700 that the AMF needs to save one life.

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