A cold day avoiding hell with Folkekirkens Nødhjælp

The brutal cold didn’t stop me from joining the 19,000 nationwide who hit the streets for yet another fundraising drive

The Church of Denmark's annual charity collection (Folkekirkens Nødhjælp) effort to attract volunteers was pretty severe. Commuters saw bleak images of downtrodden Africans on billboards and the organisation’s website pointed out stark reasons why one should walk the streets collecting money.

‘Because a child dies of hunger every 12 seconds’, ‘Because you support the fight against hunger in the world’s poorest nations’ and ‘Because no mother should see her child die of hunger’, were a few of the jarring slogans.

I joined the faithful in the brutal cold – hitting a reported minus twenty degree wind chill – because my wife signed me up and my 11-year-old son shamed me out of bed and out into the cold.

I don’t like to solicit … not even for starving children. I didn’t do Halloween as a kid for because I hate knocking on doors and asking for stuff. But there I was yesterday morning, hustling with my wife and son out of the Nørre Herlev parish just outside of Hillerød. Actually, they did all of the knocking and asking for donations as we made our way down our assigned streets. I stood a couple of metres away on the sidewalk, looking like a freezing stalker, perhaps about to snatch the black plastic collection bucket and run.

The collectors had gathered earlier, received their buckets and some literature to give to those who answered the door (and leave in the post box of those that hid behind the curtains) and headed out into the cold.

Our assigned area was an older, established neighbourhood, so most people were accustomed to the church's effort. Some were even standing by the door with their donation at the ready. There were a few “Nej taks” and one relatively hostile “I do not believe in the church”, but most gave a few coins anyway. Quick tip: If you find yourself in this situation, take a small, shivering child along. Many who looked like they were inclined to say "no” gave in after seeing my son looking imploringly at them from under his wool cap.

After peaking at over 22,000 kroner in 2009, the money collected in our parish has settled back to somewhere around 21,000 kroner annually for the past four years. This years tally was 20,807 kroner, about 400 kroner less than last year. The talk around the post-collection lunch table provided was that the cold, the financial crisis and the record number of people leaving the church took a toll on people's generosity.

“Young people just don’t have the same traditions,” said a stately older man who had collected alone and who complimented me on my caginess for having a kid along to boost the take. According to the tally on his collection sheet, the old codger nearly doubled our efforts.

A few conversations with those who gave seemed to confirm the gentleman’s hypothesis on age and giving.

When asked why he gave, an older man said, “It’s just something you do.”

A younger couple in a nice home with a newer model Mercedes parked out front politely declined, saying they did not really support the church.

Charlotte Chammon, the local vicar, pronounced herself happy with the outcome.

“We had fewer routes than last year, and it was freezing cold,” she said. "Still, we were very satisfied with what we collected."

In all, about 19,000 people braved the cold nationwide, collecting 13.5 million kroner for Folkekirkens Nødhjælp. With questions being asked about the effectiveness of these types of fund drives, the organisation's website prominently displays a graph showing that nearly 80 percent of the money collected makes it to those in need, while the rest goes to administrative costs.

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