Michaela Merz

Selling apples for Caritas Zurich

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I had the great fortune to have landed on the sunny side of life. Favourable biological, family and also social conditions have all made a substantial contribution and offered me opportunities, which I have simply grasped.

I am well aware that my life could have been quite different. It would be naive to think that one could change everything oneself, if the starting conditions had not been so favourable. So I feel a great gratitude and humility for what I have. The people, with whom I work, are in much the same situation. We know that we are privileged. Therefore, we try to give back something to those, who did not have as much luck as we did. So this year we are selling apples for Caritas Zürich. An apple for 5 francs and the proceeds go to children living in poverty. Yes, they really exist, very well hidden in rich Switzerland.

First I had to learn that, to perform a good deed, it is easier to donate money than to work for someone else. One donates money, the conscience is clear and in two minutes it’s all finished. For charitable work like street selling, one needs an infrastructure (the time, the apples, info-sheets) and that means costs up front. Then every seller also needs a police permit that is two A4 pages long.

It is Thursday, 1.00 pm, it is the day the weather breaks. Wednesday we still had summer, almost 30 degrees. Today we have autumnal 15 degrees and heavy rain.

We split up into teams of two. Each of us has a name tag and wears a red cap inscribed Caritas. We carry the apples in baskets and in torrential rain start from Paradeplatz, the landmark of money and power.

It is not easy to address complete strangers and to sell them an apple for 5 francs. The cause of the sale is important and therefore after 60 seconds I find it easy and I ask everyone, who passes by or is in a hurry. And that is the problem. In the rain it is really difficult to stop people and talk to them. They all try to hide and protect themselves. No-one really wants a chat.

A change of strategy is called for, and therefore my colleague, Sandra, and I look for a roof. The tram stop, shop entrances, passages and, thank God, there are several in Bahnhofstrasse and the neighbourhood.

During this activity, one gets to know people. This afternoon we sold about 80 apples but, believe me, not a single man in a suit, and of those there are enough around the Bahnhofstrasse, bought even a single apple. There was an exception, because I met my colleagues Andrew and Roland, both wearing suits who supported my project with a generous donation.

One shouldn’t judge people by their clothes, but this afternoon clothes were the criterion. The more stylish, fashionable and expensive someone was dressed, the less likely he or she was to buy an apple or make a donation. The sales were best by the Migros and the health store next door. There our supply of apples ran out. To go back to the stock of apples at Paradeplatz was too far and so we bought some more apples in the health store and continued our sales without delay.

To be honest it is difficult to say who is willing to buy. I had good experiences with tradesmen, young people between 20 and 30 of a rather alternative nature.

A „no thank you“ didn’t worry me. Everyone is perfectly entitled to that. Excuses got on my nerves. No Swiss francs – no problem, I can also give change in Euro. No coins – no problem, I can also change a 1000 franc note. Don’t understand the language – also no problem: Sandra was good for French and Italian and I for the Slavic languages. No money on one – I’ll come with you, wherever your purse is. Only credit cards. There I capitulated and the next time I’ll have a credit card machine with me. No, I was not an aggressive seller, I asked politely, thanked the person and made jokes in order to keep the situation relaxed.

The worst answer I received this afternoon, was from a young very fashionably dressed lady. I told her that the money was for children living in poverty, who have little. She said that didn’t interest her at all, but could I tell her where the Louis Vuitton shop was.

The rain made our work more difficult, but it didn’t prevent the success. Whoever wants to do a good deed, does so even under adverse weather conditions. The language is important and many dialogues that I had this afternoon were very enriching. For example, when I addressed a lady dressed in branded clothes and smoking in front of a fashion store on the Bahnhofstrasse. It was my last apple and I didn’t think for a minute that she would buy it from me. She was much too expensively dressed. My experience this afternoon spoke against her. But it was the last apple, it was raining cats and dogs and no one else was anywhere in sight. She listened to me and then took out a 5 francs coin and gave it to me. She didn’t want the apple. She told me that she was a saleswoman in the shop, where she was standing. She worked part-time and when she told me how much she earned, I would have preferred to give her the 5 francs back. I asked her about the expensive clothes and she explained that these were her working clothes, which the shop provided for her.

I hope that it is not true that those who have little make donations and the rich don’t. I hope that they are likely to make a bank remittance for the benefit of those in need, because they then receive the tax certificate, with which they can deduct the donation.

Once again, I sincerely thank all those who made a donation this afternoon, however small it was, or bought an apple. It was for a really good cause. I enjoyed meeting such generous people and talking with them.

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