This week, I went to a class at church where the topic of personal safety and charity arose. It led to an interesting discussion about the good Samaritan. We asked ourselves, what do we do when approached by the local vagrants?
“Well, I fed someone this week,” I said, “Actually, it was two people.” The room became quiet, so I told the story:
The woman, a grandmother, had a child with her. I pulled up to the bank to run an errand, and hoped she would disappear as she watched me park, but she waited, and stood by the car door. The boy looked hopeful, but his companion had empty eyes. When I exited the car, she asked for a meal, not money. I looked at her, looked at the boy who was the same age as my son, and did not hesitate further. I promised to feed her, but that she would have to meet me at the restaurant on the other corner. We exchanged first names as a kind of seal on the promise. After my brief errand, we ordered food, had a polite chat about raising children, and I made sure she was seated in a comfortable place. She wanted me to stay with her, but I was afraid to do so, and did not order a meal for myself. Instead, I asked the restaurant manager to look after the two and to pack an extra meal on the house and send it with her. We made sure that woman and child ate well. When the boy was not looking, I slipped the grandmother money in addition to the paid meal. I left the restaurant only to return with a toy which the child accepted enthusiastically. I was kind, but careful. I wondered if the woman had just worn out what pride she had left in order to ask for help. I wondered about the boy’s future and where he would sleep that night. Driving away, I fought back tears of guilt because I had earlier been grousing about how much I wanted to buy a home instead of rent the one we had.
I told my husband the story that night and said I was well aware of the falsehoods or misrepresentations presented by beggars here or anywhere, but that my conscience could not have rested had I denied these two people a basic need: a meal. Looking at the child, a well-mannered boy in tattered and dingy clothes, what lesson would I have taught him by turning away? Growing up, I learned that God is embodied in each one of us. I had thought of how my own family has cared for me in moments of extreme duress. I believe we are all one step away from being as desperate as the woman and child on the street. I hope that my efforts to help are somehow mirrored by her or others for greater good. All these things ran through me in that moment two hungry people asked to be fed.
Later that day, my daughter and I spoke of this, and she sweetly asked if we could find them again so she could donate all her change—we keep a large jar in the house. She said she was so sorry to know of a child who needed so desperately. I told her that we would keep our eyes open, as many homeless have an area they frequent, but that I was troubled because, fear for our safety aside, I could only provide temporary relief for them. Tomorrow, grandmother and child will likely be hungry again. While I have much to come home to, much to give, I am unable to provide better circumstances for their rising above poverty.