Barefoot Contessa and Make-A-Wish: What's off-limits when it comes to charity wish-granting?

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March 31 2011 6:50 PM

"No, Make Another Wish"

What's off-limits in the world of charity wish-granting?

Genie bottle. Click image to expand.
A genie bottle

Celebrity chef Ina Garten, the "Barefoot Contessa," finally agreed this week to meet with Enzo Pereda, a 6-year-old leukemia patient whom she'd twice rebuffed after he requested an audience through the Make-a-Wish Foundation. A spokesman for the Foundation said it had already shifted focus to the boy's second-choice wish: to swim with dolphins. Surely a cancer-stricken child can't wish for anything. What's off-limits in the world of charity wish-granting?

Weapons and extra wishes. Cash is also typically verboten, though foundations may offer to fund shopping sprees, buy laptop computers, or pay off a family's bills directly to the creditor. There are dozens of national and local nonprofit organizations in the United States devoted (in full or in part) to fulfilling the wishes of chronically and terminally ill children, and each has its own set of specific guidelines. The Florida-based  Kids Wish Network, for instance, won't give "motorized vehicles, hunting trips, in-ground pools or in-ground hot tubs or international travel due to liability." Make-a-Wish, the country's biggest and best-known wish-based charity, doesn't seem to have an explicit blacklist. Neither does the  Granted Wish Foundation, an Ohio-based organization that requires only that wishes fall into one of three categories: "basic living," "medical and health," or "extraordinary experiences" like a meeting a celebrity or visiting far-flung relatives. Organizations typically require medical approval from a wishful child's doctor before granting any request.

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The variety of approaches have created a sort of symbiosis among wish-granters. Though the KidsWish Network doesn't buy children medical equipment, they might refer a kid who makes that request to Granted Wish. A 19-year-old contacting the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which only accepts children up to age 18, might be put in touch with  A Special Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to people as old as 20.

What happens if a child wishes for something impossible or against the rules? It depends on the organization. Some, like Granted Wish, work like a college admissions office: You send them one wish and they decide, given the request and the circumstances, whether you make the next round, which might include an interview or a closer look at your medical information. Others have more of a back-and-forth process. Dream Factory, a Louisville, Ky.-based group, sends volunteer "Dream Screeners" to potential grantees' homes to help them come up with first and second choices. Sometimes an appropriate "dream" comes easily; other times, a child is indecisive, or his ideas seem coerced by his parents. In Ohio, A Special Wish Foundation asks children for a ranked list of three choices.

Though wishing for more wishes isn't explicitly forbidden, it's a nonstarter for obvious reasons. In 2008, a viral  spoof video  claimed that a boy named "Chad Carter" bankrupted the Make-A-Wish Foundation by asking for unlimited wishes. The video, published by the Onion, apparently fooled enough viewers that Make-A-Wish now debunks the myth in the  "Fraud Alerts" page  of its website. (The page also warns against phony sweepstakes that pretend to be associated with Make-A-Wish, and chain letters claiming ties to the charity.) Wish-granting organizations also deny wishes to people who have already received one from another group.

Got a question about today's news?  Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Stefanie R. Coletti of The Granted Wish Foundation and Michele Finn of The Dream Factory, Inc.

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