Candy From Babies

The hard- and soft-peddling of Youth in Action

On the walls of Youth in Action's office, maps of the Bay Area are marked with black lines indicating when each area has been canvassed. "You don't want to saturate an area," Tom Riley, a crew leader, explains. "We're back every eight to 10 weeks."

"The teen-agers are not dumb," Walker says. "They're not going to come back if it's not a good deal."

Stopped on the street and in shopping malls, the children themselves offer blank stares when asked questions that require them to diverge from their prepared speeches, as if unwilling or unable to stray from the script. They stare out past you, looking for the next customer.

But if the kids aren't talking, other people are.
"It is absolutely inappropriate for any child to be selling candy at any time, especially at night," says Mary Buttler, principal of Davidson Middle School in San Rafael, close to Youth in Action's home base. "Their bodies are young, they need rest, they need to be at home."

"They put them, I think, in some dangerous emotional situations," she says. "It makes me crazy when I find out about it. They use these kids. They really use them. There's no reason they need to sell candy."

And at least one San Francisco school called the police when Youth in Action appeared last year with fliers that promised $100 a week to the young candy-sellers.

"What happened is last year they gave some fliers to our students. They were walking around our students doing that," says John Greener, assistant principal at Ben Franklin Middle School, on Scott Street. "I thought it was really inappropriate the way they were doing that."

Greener called the school police, he says.
"The kids didn't know them. Somebody would have a van outside and jump out of the van and visit with them. I just wanted to make sure our kids weren't being lured."

"I had actually called the organization and told them I would like them to send me material on the organization," Greener says. "The people didn't get back to me right away. They seemed kind of evasive."

"We would never let people like this on school property to distribute this stuff," Greener says.

"We don't let any business venture advertise in the schools through our distribution," says the San Francisco School District's Gail Kaufman, whose job includes approving all items that can be posted in the schools. "Something like that has never come to me, but if it did I would certainly do a full investigation. I would certainly be extremely cautious.

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