You might have wondered this time last year why people were standing in a long line at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building outside the Nauvoo Café. No, they weren't trying to get those scarce tickets to the Christmas concerts at the LDS Conference Center or stand in line for green Jell-O salad. Utahns were queuing up to use a church-operated vending machine that wasn't even dispensing Pepsi. At the big, red boxes, people can use credit cards to purchase items costing $2 to $320. They include food, clothing, hygiene supplies, sports equipment and even livestock. Partner charities—like UNICEF, WaterAid and Church World Service—supply the items and receive 100% of the donations.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints created the vending machines two years ago and has collected more than $2.7 million in donations. The "Light the World" vending machines are now available at Downtown Summerlin shopping center in Las Vegas; Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, Hawaii; University Place Mall in Orem; Writer Square in Denver; Christmas in the Park in San Jose, Calif.; TriNoma Mall in Manila, Philippines; Water Tower Plaza in Gilbert, Ariz.; Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City; Manhattan New York Temple in New York City; and the Hyde Park Visitors' Centre in London.
Customers can walk up and buy items for the Utah Food Bank, glasses for kids, art supplies for elementary students—or a chicken. Maybe someone you know has given you an animal donation instead of a tacky Christmas sweater? If you buy a chicken for a family, it provides eggs for them, or if you purchase a goat, it provides milk. After you've decided, the machine dispenses a CD-sized packet as proof of purchase. The choices are many and the machines are about the size of eight Coke machines placed side-by-side—you can't miss them.
While traveling around the globe, you might bump into weird vending machines. There are local artists' art dispensers in North Carolina (Art-O-Mat), live crab vending machines in China and Japan ($3.50 each), bait banks for worms throughout the U.S., and Hello Kitty vending machines in Malaysia. But again, this is the season to give, rather than get. Smith's sponsors Angel Trees at many of its locations where you can pick up a card and purchase items for a child's holiday. So track down a red Light the World box, find an Angel Tree or go online and make a donation to better the planet and your soul.