What's the difference? Nothing.
Not to get all religious fanatic-y on you, but we are both dust (and unto dust we shall return).
There was a time in my life when I was a little less comfortable with this Kumbaya-ish world view of people living on the streets. A time when I would avoid them by crossing over to the other side of the street or by looking the other way. A time when I would steel my eyes, ignore their words and walk briskly passed them. After all, they were dirty and smelly and made me feel uncomfortable.
Each time I was confronted by a panhandler, in a mere millisecond, a thousand thoughts would flood my brain: be careful. How am I going to tell him 'no'. What if he shoots me? What if he stabs me? What if he grabs me? And tries to rape me? I DO have a few dollars, should I give it to him? What's he gonna spend it on? Booze? Drugs? Sex? I don't want to give him my money. I don't even have enough of it for myself. Well, maybe just some change. What's he gonna buy with thirty cents? Why did he choose me? He didn't ask that guy that just walked by. I should've walked the other way home. Maybe I can ignore him.
Then I met my husband (then boyfriend) and everything changed.
Sounds silly but it's true. Tim is amazing. He has been blessed with blinders. Instead of clamming up and ignoring these people, he talked to them. Sometimes he gave them cash. I remember having conversations with him about how he handled those situations. I told him how I admired how he handled them and he admitted that he felt just as uncomfortable as I was. Maybe just a tad bit less (girls have a particular disadvantage). But this post isn't about my extraordinary husband. It's about how I overcame my fear of the panhandler.
As we continued to encounter panhandlers that would approach us while we were out we talked about how we felt in these situations, what the person's story was, what we said, what we did, how we could do things better.
We both in our hearts wanted to help these people, but were concerned that if we just handed them cash, our donations would be spent on addictions that shouldn't be fed.
Through the years, we've discovered that when people ask us for money it's easy to offer them a meal instead.
Every time someone comes up to us (when we're together) or me (when I'm alone) we always offer to buy them a meal. It goes like this:
Panhandler #1 (them): "Do you have any spare change?"
Panhandler #2 (us):"No. I don't carry cash. But I can buy you a meal if you're hungry." (And that's not even a lie. I never carry cash.)
What we have discovered is that Panhandler #1 will never turn the offer down. There have been occasions when the person was disgruntled and trudged off mumbling bad words about us under his breath, no doubt, but when this happens we no longer feel bad about not helping - because we tried.
There are still 20 days left in Hunger Action Month. Give it a try. Help feed America.