A video shows them striding purposefully on a New York street, urban dwellers and laborers preoccupied with individual pursuits on a busy workday. Instantly, two side-by-side vending machines come into view, one with a sign that says “Get,” and the other, “Give.”
“What if people could give to someone in need instead of buying something for themselves?” the screen caption reads.
A young woman approaches one of the machines, inserts some currency and presses some buttons. Into a bin below falls her donation — it might be a small blanket or a towel — wrapped in a label bearing the words “Light the World.”
With a gleaming smile, she walks away from the machine and shakes hands with an LDS missionary.
Another woman, with hands on hips, looks from one machine to the other before making her choice. From the machine, she purchases a donation of two chickens that, through the auspices of a global charity, will benefit someone in need somewhere in the world.
“Freely ye have received, freely give,” a passage from Matthew 10:8, comes on the screen as the brief video concludes.
It is the first of 25 daily videos to be shared on social media in this year’s “Light the World” campaign, an annual effort by the Church to promote celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ by serving others during the Christmas season.
The vending machine component of the campaign is real, though it is modest for now. Machines have been placed in the lobby of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City, near the entrance to the Nauvoo Café.
The New York placement of the machines was a temporary experiment to see how the machines would be received. It was positive, with the passersby overwhelmingly choosing the “give” rather than the “get” machine.
Elder Brent H. Nielson, General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department, introduced the initiative Nov. 30 to reporters gathered at a news conference.
“The idea is a simple way to donate to charities,” he explained. “Instead of getting something out of a vending machine, you can actually give something. We’ve partnered with a number of charities and they’re all involved with these vending machines.”
Sometimes it’s hard to know how to give and where to give, Elder Nielson noted. “This is symbolic of how easy it is to donate to a charity. We’re hoping people will be able to see how simple it is to just give a few dollars or to share some money they have with a charity that’s in need.”
One of the charities, care.org, allows donors to actually buy two chickens or a goat for someone in need somewhere in the world, Elder Nielson pointed out, with the idea that a family might benefit from the eggs or the milk.
“We’ve been trying to figure out an easier way to light the world, how do we share this idea of charity, how do we share the Savior’s message of helping other people,” he said. “As we thought about this, this was something that people do every day. They go to a vending machine to get something, and this was an idea we had where you go to a vending machine to actually give something.
“We’ll see how it works, but we’re really excited to try it.”
If the idea takes off, it might be done “in other places at other times as we continue to try to light the world,” he said.
Designed to offer the opportunity to give “an instant act of service,” the vending machines will be in place at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building through the end of December.
Though this is the first time the vending machines have been tried, it is the second year for the “Light the World” campaign. Last year at Christmas, the response was “amazing,” the Church leader said. “We had 85 million views around the world in each of our international areas from New Zealand to Argentina. All around the world people were engaged in lighting the world.”
While only one vending machine was used in New York, a full bank of machines is in Salt Lake City. Each holds items needed by charities.
Items going to care.org, in addition to chickens and goats, include baby supplies, emergency supplies, blankets, first aid kits, radios and medication.
An adjacent vending machine holds items to be purchased for the Utah Food Bank or eyeglasses for another Utah-based organization called Eye Care 4 Kids.
From another vending machine, bottles of water may be purchased representing donations to provide pure water in areas where it is needed, through WaterAid and Water for People.
Still another vending machine dispenses free cards, each bearing a suggestion of a simple way one might serve others this holiday season. “Take time to really listen and try to understand someone else’s point of view,” reads one, for example.
The vending machines are set up to receive donations via credit cards. All donated items and money collected will go to the respective charities. Since the Nov. 30 launch, lines of people waiting to get to the machines have been up to one hour in duration.
For more information on the “Light the World” campaign, or to view any of the 25 videos, including the one shot in New York City, go to the link on the home page of the Church’s website, www.lds.org.