My co-worker and fellow blogger shared this article with me in which the columnist challenged people, in the new year and the new decade, to look at a few things through fresh eyes. The writer listed 52 suggestions, one for every week of the year. This week’s topic is people who beg for money.
People who beg for money bug me. Can I say that? I don’t mean that to be ugly. I have such a big heart for people in bad spots and rough times that I’m irritated with myself that I feel that way, but I do, for several reasons. One, the same thing everyone always says, I can’t trust them. I can’t trust that the words written on the cardboard sign are true. I can’t trust that they’re not going to use the money to buy drugs or alcohol. Would they really work for food? Well then why aren’t they? If you’re homeless, I know that not having an address can be a problem, but again there are numerous assistance groups out there than can help with even that. I know there are medical problems that can interfere with the ability to hold a job and be reliable in that, but I truly believe that with as much assistance groups that we have out there, someone somewhere can help people better than the help they are getting my begging on the street. There are groups that help people get jobs, get new starts, clean up their appearance so they can get and hold a job. Why are you choosing to sit in the heat or cold with a sign instead of clean yourself up and get some real help. I know that doing that requires swallowing your pride and giving up bad habits and working, but is having a home and a job and money to eat with worth that? If it’s not worth that to you then why should it be worth it to me?
A lot of my view has also to do with the fact that I’m a woman. My parents always showed compassion for people less fortunate than ourselves and we supported food kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters, and the like. But as a girl and now a woman, I had to be more careful when people approached me on the street. My dad has helped numerous such people by taking them to a grocery store and buying them things they need, and through our churches people with needs for food and clothing and rent and utilities are helped. So I’m not saying don’t help people. I love helping people, and we do that through several agencies. But is giving someone a few dollars on the street what they need? I guess temporarily it is, but are we becoming part of the problem if we, as a society, promote and accept street beggars as a way of life, as a career choice even. I tend to think so. Certainly there’s a better way.
In the summer of 1996 I worked at an office job, and on my lunch break frequently went to McDonald’s. They were doing their summer Monopoly promotion game and I was saving the little game pieces off of the fries and drinks trying to win big, so when I say “frequently” I mean pretty much daily. My standard McDonald’s meal is the two cheeseburger meal (no onions, no pickles, of course). On one particular day on the my way back to work, after having bought the two cheeseburger meal, I was stopped at a red light where a man was standing with a sign about being hungry or needing food. I don’t remember now what it said. He was standing even with my window. I was trying not to look. I didn’t want it to be obvious that I saw him. I didn’t want him to see me see him and then see me turn away. But without even really looking at him, sitting there eating my two cheeseburgers while he had none just seemed wrong. So I rolled down my window and handed him one of my cheeseburgers. That’s probably not what he wanted. I have no way of knowing. My guess is he’d preferred to have money more than a cheeseburger. He unwrapped it and ate it, so he at least “received” it.
The light changed and I drove off and I wondered what happened next. Did he finish eating it? Did he stay there asking for food and/or money for food? Did he go sit down somewhere since he has asked for food and someone had just met that need? Did others see him eating the cheeseburger and not give him money because of it? Was he grateful or was he mad? Did he throw it away or hide it because being seen eating a cheeseburger would hurt his cause? Did that cheeseburger have any kind of temporal or lasting impact on him? I’ve thought about that man many times over the years. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt impressed to help someone begging on the street. I wonder if something about that encounter stood out to him, does he tell the story of this one time when a teenage girl gave him a cheeseburger.