Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Something happened on Saturday that I haven't been able to get out of my  head, so I thought I'd throw it out to Blogland and see if anyone else has had similar experiences...
Travis and I had just finished grocery shopping at a large chain store here in Turlock and we were loading the groceries into my car when an older lady stepped out from behind the cart return thing and said, "Can you help me?"  She was clean, hair brushed, wearing clean clothes, and I think she was a little mentally challenged or delayed.  Despite all this, my first thought was that she was going to ask for money because there have been pan handlers out front this particular store many times in the past.  With a slight hesitation, I said, "What do you need?"  She responded, very politely, "Do you have some food I can have?"  I turned to my car, packed full of our carefully budgeted groceries and started digging for something that we could spare.  I ended up giving her one yogurt container and a healthy meal-replacement/snack bar.  She was so grateful she said thank you multiple times and then sat down and scarfed up the food.  As we drove away I felt so guilty that we didn't give her more, but I was unsettled at how the whole thing took place. I'm not sure why, and I still can't put it into words, but I felt guilty and sad more than I felt happy that I could help someone else.  Why is that?
I have a personal policy against giving money out, but I have given food to people on quite a few occasions.  Travis and I discussed how much more willing we both are to give something substantial to someone in need than to give money.  I'd rather give this lady a fiber-rich bar and  calcium-rich yogurt than give her the equivalent in money that she might take to buy crappy fast food that will leave her hungrier than she was to begin with.
I still feel guilty that I didn't give her more food.  We don't have a lot of money, and we budget very carefully, and even when I was giving her what we could I was calculating what that removes from our existence.  That negated any good will that I had felt about my actions.  Does anyone have any thoughts on the matter or similar stories?
Travis and I went to school in Santa Cruz where there are always people asking for free handouts.  Santa Cruz is really supportive of their homeless population and there are MANY different organizations the dispense aide and vocational support.  I was completely desensitized to people asking for help when I routinely saw them taking the money they received into Starbucks for a mocha or into the bar for a draft beer instead of into the grocery store for food.  I've been known to give much of my own lunch away to people who ask specifically for food.  I've given clothes from my car- not from my to-donate-to-Goodwill-because-I don't-wear-it-anymore pile,  but from the it might be cold so I'll through in another layer pile in my car.  I've given people rides to the bus station, and other things like that, but I just can't hand over money.  I want to help people help themselves, not help them perpetuate their current state of being, and I guess the only way I feel I can do that is if I am aware of exactly what my actions are doing for the other individual.
Travis spent most of his youth in Santa Cruz, so he's even more hardened than I am, but he said his actions were changed one night when he was 18 or 19.  He was running into the grocery store for something silly and there was a young man outside the store asking people if they could buy him diapers or give him money to buy diapers.  Travis went inside and bought the diapers for him because he didn't think any child should have to suffer for the actions of the parent; who knows what the story was for the parent, but Travis could help a child, even if it was just for a couple of days.
I have no idea what this lady's story was, all I know is she ate that food so quickly she probably hadn't eaten for a while.  We didn't do a lot for her, but we did a little something and she's still in my thoughts.  


Katie Hart said...

Hi Margo,
You are a sweet lady you know that! The situation discribed by you has happened to me before. I understand why you felt guilty. The important thing is that you gave her something and did not reject her. There are always going to be people out there that need help. With the economy the way it is there are going to be more and more of those people looking for a hand out. You can only give so much and you have to remember that it is not your responsibility to save each person that comes up to you. I know for a fact that there are programs in your area that feed the homeless and employment support programs.
All that being said you did a very nice thing. Give when you can but keep in mind that there are supports out there. I think if you really want to do more you should volunteer at one of those places.
I have had so many of these types of experiences in the social work field but also in my personal life. I know it is hard but if we enable those to depend on a hand out they will never break the cycle. This is just my opinion. I hope it helps.

Craig said...

Hey cousin!

I think we were both hit up by the same lady - around the same date. At the time we were heading in to TJ Maxx when she asked for help - and I told her I didn't have any money, but that if we saw her when she came out we would go buy her some food - not as healthy as yours of course, but we went over to In-N-Out and bought her a hamburger and a large cup of water (it was pretty hot outside at the time) - your blog described her behavior to a tee, other than she wasn't exactly totally clean or nicely dressed, but she wasn't filthy or in rags either.

What a strange coincidence!