A young South Carolinian spent his Disney World money on Hurricane Dorian evacuees, ABC affiliate WJBF reported Tuesday. Six-year-old Jermaine Bell had been saving for a trip to the famous amusement park, but spent it on food for survivors fleeing Dorian instead. Charity happens in surprising ways.
According to the WJBF article, Jermaine Bell spent enough money on hot dogs, chips, and water to feed 100 Dorian evacuees. He set up signs on Highway 125 in Addendale, South Carolina, to get drivers’ attention to stop at his food stand. Bell also prayed with families and told WJBF that he simply wanted evacuees to have food so they could enjoy their unexpected trips at least a little bit. As the story gained popularity, a GoFundMe account was started to get Bell to Disney World and has raised over $12,000, as of press time. Altruism benefits both the recipient and the giver and is done for many reasons.
Studies have shown that the amount of income given by different households resembles a “U” pattern, in that, low-income households donate about 5 percent of their income to charity, middle-class families donate 2 percent to 3 percent and high-income families donate 5 percent. Why does this spike happen in low-income households?
“One possibility is that a lot of low-income households who give money are elderly households who don’t have much income in a year, but they have a fair amount of retirement wealth—they get money from a pension and Social Security,” said Professor Timothy Taylor, Managing Editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives. “So it’s a little misleading to think of them as ‘low-income’ families. They are low-income, but they do have a reasonable amount of personal wealth.”
Professor Taylor also mentioned that low-income families donate to their churches, but even small donations are a larger percentage of their income than those of high-income families. “It seems true that the working poor are more likely than the middle class to be in religious congregations where tithing and high levels of giving as a share of income are common,” he said. “It’s also true that the poor and the working class often get something back from their church. There may be group meals, or social support, childcare, the ability to exchange a household item between members of the congregation, and other services of that sort.”
The Ik Tribe of Uganda
Charity can, surprisingly, be taken to extreme and selfish measures given the right circumstance. “Back in 1972, [anthropologist Colin Turnbull] published a book about the Ik tribe, a tribe of a few thousand subsistence farmers living in northern Uganda,” Professor Taylor said. “The Ik tribe was extremely poor; near starvation; and very, very self-interested, but at the same time, this tribe had a very strong ethic that if you received a gift, that gift needed to be repaid.”
“So what people in this tribe would do is, on the one side, work really hard to give gifts to each other to build up future obligations, and on the other side, try really hard not to receive gifts from others, because then you would end up owing in the future,” Professor Taylor said.
Quoting from Turnbull’s book, Professor Taylor explained that the goal of the Ik was often to build up a series of obligations owed you by neighbors so that when you needed to call on them to repay a debt, they almost couldn’t say no. The result is a sort of guerrilla altruism. People would show up and hoe other farmers’ fields or help build a house without being asked. To quote Turnbull, “At one time, I’ve seen so many men thatching a roof, the whole roof was in serious danger of collapsing and the protests of the owner were of no avail.”
It’s clear that Jermaine Bell acted from a purely selfless place when he aided Hurricane Dorian evacuees. However, due to the spontaneous kindness of the strangers who set up a GoFundMe page for him, it appears he’ll be making it to Disney World after all.
Professor Timothy Taylor contributed to this article. Professor Taylor is Managing Editor of the prominent Journal of Economic Perspectives, published by the American Economic Association. He earned his Master’s degree in Economics from Stanford University.