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All Too Familiar

December 14, 2015


It was one of those instances that occur all too often, and it stuck like a burr on my emotional sweater.


Mrs. Chatterbox and I were circling our grocery store looking for a place to park. It was raining hard as we climbed out of our car. I didn’t pay the woman any attention until she approached and said, “Sorry to bother you, but can you help me?”


Pale and thin, it was hard to gauge her age—maybe forty. She wore the colorless clothes of a zombie in The Walking Dead. Most of her teeth were missing and she looked like a hardscrabble life and bad choices had finally caught up to her. I wondered if there were track marks on her arms beneath the old coat.


“I’m hungry and have no money,” she said. “Can you help me out with a few bucks?”


I’d seen people panhandling on street corners with signs explaining that they were homeless or needed food to feed the cute puppy they’d brought to soften skeptical people like us. This woman had no sign. At least she didn’t have children or a woeful looking puppy. I was about to explain that we give money to various community programs which could provide her with a meal and shelter, but Mrs. Chatterbox, who works for our police department and is exposed to the seedier side of life, spoke first. “We aren’t giving you money, but there are other ways we can help.”


“Pleeeeze,” she whimpered. “I could really use a few bucks.”


Mrs. C. has the biggest heart of anyone I know. She drops money into every Salvation Army kettle she passes. I only give money if they promise to stop ringing that infernal bell.


Mrs. C. pointed across the street. “If you’re really hungry, over there is the police station. They have bags of nonperishable groceries. Tell them you’re hungry and they’ll give you one.”


“I did that already. They gave me a chicken.”


“A chicken? They don’t give out chickens, or anything perishable.”


“How would you know?” the woman asked.


“Because I work for the police department and help collect food for the Oregon Food Bank. We don’t hand out chickens.”


“Well, that’s what they did.”


Mrs. C. shook her head. “Is there some reason you don’t feel comfortable going to the police department for a free sack of food?”


“I’m not asking for a free sack of food. I’m asking for five or ten bucks.”


It was hard witnessing this exchange because we have so much of everything. Five or ten bucks wouldn’t make a dent in my wallet, but it seemed highly probable this woman was more interested in acquiring drugs than food.


“You said you were hungry. How about we give you a ride to the station,” Mrs. C. said. “I’ll go inside with you to get one of those bags.”


The woman made a strange face. Without teeth, it was hard to tell if she was smiling or grimacing. “No thanks.”


As we turned away and started walking toward the store, the woman yelled out, “Merry Christmas!” There was a bit of an edge to her voice.


As I walked through the well-stocked aisles of our grocery store, dumping items into our cart, I couldn’t help thinking about that woman. When we finished paying for our groceries and wheeled our cart back to our car I noticed her approaching another couple in the parking lot.


She hadn’t made the trip across the street for free food. I guess she wasn’t all that hungry after all. I know we did the right thing, but this encounter did more to chill my mood than the icy rain.



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My standard line is that i will buy them food, but nothing else. If they are really hungry, they will take it, and some have. A good response to her might have been, "We are not buying your drugs for you, we are giving you a few more minutes of sobriety. You're welcome."
By: messymimi on December 14, 2015
Sometimes I give money, but like your wife, I don't feel right funding a drug habit. If she didn't want to go get a bag of free food, then you know that wasn't what she was after.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on December 14, 2015
i have a hard time with that, too, but usually i give them a few bucks. their life is so much worse than mine, so no matter what they spend it on... *sigh*
By: TexWisGirl on December 14, 2015
Definitely suspicious. I might have to make me one of those signs soon.
By: PT Dilloway on December 14, 2015
The lines between 'have' and the 'have nots' is blurred. Most people don't truly recognize what they see. The problems aren't always what they appear to be. Poverty doesn't discriminate.
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 14, 2015
it's been my experience that the ones who approach you asking for money for food aren't hungry. well, they may be but they don't want you to give them food or buy them a meal. my husband will hand out money to any open palm until his pockets are empty. I'm far more selective.
By: ellen abbott on December 14, 2015
When I was "flush", I would occasionally give these people some money but I always thought it was going for drugs or booze.
By: Catalyst on December 14, 2015
I don't mind giving, I hate the begging. In have been burned by the scams several times and vow never again. Feeding a drug habit helps no one. What bothers me even more is when kids beg outside the grocery store. Why should I give them money so they can go to Florida for a Cheerleading Contest?
By: cranky on December 14, 2015
WE seldom give money to an individual, but we contribute large amounts to legitimate charities!!
By: fishducky on December 14, 2015
I donate to food banks and volunteer my time for other non-profits. I remember one time back in the 1960's being approached by a young man with a puppy asking for money so he could feed the little dog. I went into the store, bought dog food and went back out to give it to the guy- he was pissed off- so I have never ever given money again- at least not in the USA. I have in other countries where it's obvious there is a real need.
By: Kathe W. on December 14, 2015
When I asked our Heavenly Father what I should do in cases like that, He told me to give what I could and let Him deal with the consequences, For even when the money appears to be wasted in our sight, it is not wasted because it goes to accomplish His purposes in one way or another on down the line. On the other hand, when a giver expects to be rewarded for their generosity, the will not receive all they could. Thus being the sad reality to far too many Christian charities.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on December 14, 2015
You did the right thing but they can make you feel so guilty.
By: red on December 14, 2015
I remember once when Rich felt compelled to give a woman money when she begged at a McDonald's that she and her kids were hungry. He handed her money and believe me I wasn't happy. Sure enough, she took it and got right into a car and took off. It's a tough call to those who really are in need than those who are addicts.
By: Bouncin Barb on December 14, 2015
Truly sad, but you did the right thing. :(
By: Scott Park on December 14, 2015
Tough call. But let's face it, either way it wouldn't make the slightest different in that woman's life. Well ... it would if she had followed your wife's advice. But we could see, that wasn't gonna happen. Too bad.
By: Tom Sightings on December 14, 2015
I tell them I just went through a divorce and I don't have money either! And then walk away. Good Luck!
By: Linda on December 14, 2015
Yeah, it's tough. I never give cash, but I do give both cash and food items throughout the year to various charities including the local food bank. I like to know my donations are being used properly.
By: Botanist on December 14, 2015
I stiffed the kids waving a large plastic ice cream bucket in front of the convenience store while their parents sat in lawn chairs chatting. They SAID it was for the March of Dimes, but I never saw any official logos. Something tells me the March of Dimes does not recommend collecting their money in ice cream tubs. However...I let my son hand money out the car window to the scruffy-bearded guy eating a cheeseburger at the McDonald's exit, because I figured it was plausible that he lived under the nearby bridge. He DID have the good manners to say, "God bless you, son."
By: Val on December 14, 2015
I never give money to people. A month or so ago, I was at Walgreens. A man approached me in the parking lot and asked for money for food. I said I wouldn't give him money, but I'd buy him something to eat. When I lived in Illinois, a particular strip mall parking lot had someone asking for money nearly every day. I started calling the police when I saw these people. I felt concerned that a "no" could lead to violence, or that people would give money for food and then it would be spent on drugs. It's tragic. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 14, 2015
You write of one of the vexing dilemmas of urban life. Most of us can't help but be suspicious, at the very least. Feeding an addiction is not how most of us would choose to give away our money, though it is the uncertainty or doubt that plagues us. It seems cruel to look past or ignore those who appear so down, but begging and panhandling in itself can be offensive or even frightening to some who are approached. I have given money and I have walked by and in both eventualities I second guess my action. Recently I have tried to look directly at the approaching beggar and attempt to offer them at least a bit of human respect by way of interaction. There have been instances when I have offered something and it has been rejected. It is a hard damned thing to deal with and to know what is the best way to respond.
By: Tom Cochrun on December 14, 2015
This kind of situation is always very hard. My rule is that I try to help people who are doing a bit to help themselves. But if I was a panhandler I think I could feel pretty angry with the world and just want to blot it out. So the question is really, should you help people do this? And that is a hard one.
By: Jenny Woolf on December 15, 2015
This is such a human problem across the country. Mrs.Chatterbox had the right idea.
By: Michael Manning on December 15, 2015
I hate it. I hate to stereotype. I hate the fact that so many people are fighting for each breath, living on the streets. I hate that sometimes my money is used for drugs, but I don't hate it that much. If that's what they need to survive, I can spare it. I've also handed food to people - sometimes they're very appreciative, sometimes not.
By: Robyn Engel on December 15, 2015
A conundrum, for sure. No matter what you do, you wonder later if it was right. I feel lucky that there aren't many people asking for help in our small town. If I had to face this situation a lot, I'd probably become a hermit.
By: jenny_o on December 15, 2015
I'm with you on this one. I DO give money to some of the people around town, but I'm very particular. I have no idea if my criteria have any bearing in reality. But I try. I have often offered to go back into a market and buy them some food -- whatever they'd like. One, and only one, person has ever smiled and taken me up on he offer. Still I feel awful most times I say "no." I need a Mrs. C with her kind heart and smarts.
By: Mitchell is Moving on December 16, 2015

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