Wednesday, January 13, 2010

No Good Deed...

The other day we went to - wait for it - Target. When we pulled into a parking spot I noticed a man and a woman walking around the lot, each holding a small sign.

The man was small, with thick grey hair standing straight up, a scraggly beard and baggy, dirty clothes. The woman looked like she might be Indian. She wore a sari but was younger than the man, maybe in her 30s or early 40s.

David was approached by the man as we unloaded the kids from the car. His sign read that he was homeless, couldn't speak, and asked for money. David told him no and the man shuffled away.

I wondered at the time what message we were sending our kids by not helping this man. Sawyer is old enough to get it; a few months ago when we were in San Diego he saw a man sleeping in a park and said "Oh! That poor homeless guy!"

So I think I said something about all the things we've done to help people. And of course, in typical six year-old fashion, Sawyer forgot about it as we walked into Toy Wonderland.

David said he sees beggars in the parking lot all the time. Which was astounding to me, considering Target is my home away from home. I've NEVER seen them before.

Today I went back to Target to buy a bookcase that was on sale. I noticed a tall woman in a baseball cap slowly walking in the parking lot. She approached a woman, who shook her head.

Then she came up to me. She told me her car was running out of gas and she didn't have her wallet. She said maybe her teenagers took her wallet out of the car. Did I have a couple dollars so she could get some gas?

And you know what - I gave her two dollars. I rarely have cash but I had some today. I then walked into the store. I could still see her. She was walking up to other women. I felt like a fool. I didn't want her to take advantage of another person.

So I went BACK out to the parking lot and approached her and said, "You still need more money?" as she was waiting for a woman to give her some. And she said "Yeah you only gave me $2 and that's not enough for a gallon." She got me on that one. I asked her where her car was and she clicked her key chain and a car beeped.

I wasn't sure what to think. But I went back into the store and did my shopping figuring, hey, I did a good deed, whether or not she was legit and not trying to score money for drugs or whatever.

Of course, being me, I couldn't just forget about it. What really got to me was wondering why I so easily gave her the money when there's no way we were giving any to the homeless people we saw this weekend.

Maybe because at first I identified with her, a mom who forgot her wallet and ran out of gas. It could happen to me, right? Even though my gut told me there was something not quite right with her. I cannot imagine going up to strangers and asking for money, and there was no sense of urgency or embarassment about her.

I asked David later whether I'd made a bad decision. Why didn't I feel as compelled to help those homeless people? And he was all "Why would there be homeless people in this town?" which is probably true. How did the homeless people get to the Target in our very suburban small town? I guess his suspicions stopped him from giving money. This woman seemed much more plausible.

But really, they were the ones who seemed like they needed the help. So what did this say about me?

It is tough to know who's truly in need. It'd be nice to have enough money to help everyone. I know we do our part.

But this particular act of charity left me questioning myself.

Edited to add: Thanks to Kirsten over at Nilsen Life reminded me I wanted to post about Haiti. My two dollars would definitely have been better served going there, and of course, we'll donate. Here are some options and here are even more options linked from Dooce.

1 comment:

MiniMe Mom said...

When we were in San Fran a few years ago, there was a homeless man and a scraggly dog at the Fisherman's Wharf. He was one of those guys that stood out because he would pretend to be sleeping until someone would walk by. He then would surprise them by moving or jumping out at them, etc.

I was with my parents so we watched him from afar for a bit. My dad identified with his humor, so he threw $5 in the bucket at his feet.

Much later that evening, we stopped in the gas station across from our hotel room and we saw that very homeless man with the scrappy dog, buying lottery tickets, cigarettes, and alchohol. My dad joked with me, "Should I ask him for my $5 back"

Since that day (and because we live in a place with ample homeless shelters and multiple ways for them to get assistance) I have not given money to the homeless.

Doesn't make me feel any less guilty about saying NO though! I still feel horrible every time I don't! LOL

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