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Feeding the Homeless

Tonight I spent $12 to buy two beggars on the street food. I’ve never done that before. What on Earth would possess me to do that?
Before I answer that question, I’ll preface it with some explanation.
I lived in downtown-“ish” Boston for the better part of 5 years while I studied for my undergraduate degree. While walking to and from different places (some say you can get to anywhere in Boston by walking in about 15 minutes) you tend to meet some interesting people. Especially around the liquor store right on the edge of campus which also happened to be right next to a half-way house (yes, that sounds like a very good idea to me!) Over the years I’ve perfected the “don’t look at them in the eye and just move on” or the “bluff” and say “no, I don’t have any change I can spare” even though you know you could probably spare some coin but justify it with “I’m a poor college student.”
And you know what, I don’t blame anyone who thinks that way because more often than not I think that way. What do you suppose beggars use their money for? Booze? Drugs? Sex? Probably all three at one time or another. So why should someone just give money to a beggar when they don’t know what that money is going to be used for?
I’ve thought about giving money to the homeless or even volunteering my time to help others. I’ve just never seemed to be at that point in my life where I was able to branch out and stop worrying about myself and be able to share or even give to another person. A lot of times growing up I was either too self-absorbed or just had too much going on in my life to even consider being able to help someone else when my life needed so much help.
When I moved out to New York last year, I had a job, I had a place to live and I was by myself for the most part (save for Izzie always being around and the times Adam stopped on by.) I was someone “jealous” that Adam was able to volunteer his own time to become an EMT and be able to legitimately go out and save someone’s life on a nightly b>Before I answer that question, I’ll preface it with some explanation.
I lived in downtown-“ish” Boston for the better part of 5 years while I studied for my undergraduate degree. While walking to and from different places (some say you can get to anywhere in Boston by walking in about 15 minutes) you tend to meet some interesting people. Especially around the liquor store right on the edge of campus which also happened to be right next to a half-way house (yes, that sounds like a very good idea to me!) Over the years I’ve perfected the “don’t look at them in the eye and just move on” or the “bluff” and say “no, I don’t have any change I can spare” even though you know you could probably spare some coin but justify it with “I’m a poor college student.”
And you know what, I don’t blame anyone who thinks that way because more often than not I think that way. What do you suppose beggars use their money for? Booze? Drugs? Sex? Probably all three at one time or another. So why should someone just give money to a beggar when they don’t know what that money is going to be used for?
I’ve thought about giving money to the homeless or even volunteering my time to help others. I’ve just never seemed to be at that point in my life where I was able to branch out and stop worrying about myself and be able to share or even give to another person. A lot of times growing up I was either too self-absorbed or just had too much going on in my life to even consider being able to help someone else when my life needed so much help.
When I moved out to New York last year, I had a job, I had a place to live and I was by myself for the most part (save for Izzie always being around and the times Adam stopped on by.) I was someone “jealous” that Adam was able to volunteer his own time to become an EMT and be able to legitimately go out and save someone’s life on a nightly basis (and all this with a full-time day job, no less!) What could lil’ ol’ me do on the week nights to stave the boredom? I had thought about going to a Human Society shelter and volunteering there a few nights a week but it turns out even shelters close for the evenings at around 4, that doesn’t work for someone who worked in a Start-up environment. The feeling of charity eventually subsided and crawled back into the abyss which is my soul to fester – *cough* I mean hibernate, and I had nearly forgotten about my desire to “give back.”
Fast forward to last night. I’ve been unemployed for almost 3 months now as I wait for my new job to start next week. I’m standing in the oral hygiene isle at CVS down the street from my apartment because I’ve seemed to run out of toothpaste although I swear I bought two tubes the last time I was out (I always seem to be running out of toothpaste, my Adam has it as a snack?) Since I’ve been unemployed for 3 months, money was getting a little tight. I had to ask my mother that same day to lend me some money so I could pay February’s rent since my job got pushed back yet another week (damn bureaucracy!) The toothpaste cost $5.99. I contemplated about getting two tubes but decided not, “that’s $16! I don’t have enough for that!” As I walked to the register with my toothpaste in hand, I spent a couple minutes looking at the Valentine’s candy that was on display and picked out a bag of “fun-size” Kit-Kats (thinking about Adam, who loves the things) and heart-shaped York Peppermint Patties because I hadn’t had them in a really long time. I paid and then went home.
After chomping on a few Kit-Kats since I was starving and waiting for dinner to be done, I happened to look at the receipt that I shoved in the bag. It cost just as much for me to buy that damn candy than it would have been for me to buy that other tube of toothpaste. Ugh. Why was it okay for me to spend it on an obsession (chocolate) rather than something hygienic (toothpaste?)
I began to think about all the “things” in my life that I wanted. I had realized that over the past few months as I was looking for a job I had begun making lists of “things” I wanted to be able to afford after I started making money again. New wheels for my car to replace the ones that were stolen, a new iMac so I could have more computing power for the things I wanted to do, even a doggy seat belt for Izzie because it would make my life easier just to hook her up to that than lug around her obtuse kennel around on day trips. I began to felt guilty for my desire for “things” that I had developed rather than enriching experiences in my life.
I told you that story to tell you this one.
Tonight I was waiting for my train from White Plains into Grad Central. As I walked on to the platform, a middle-aged man who looked and acted like he may have been slightly mentally disabled asked me for a dollar. I lied and said I didn’t have any cash on me. I sat down and watched as he walked on down and asked someone else for change. Instead of what I had said earlier, he said “Where are you going? Are you going to buy a ticket with it?” and instead the guy said, “no I wanted to by food.” I couldn’t really hear the end of the conversation but it ended with the beggar hitting the elevator button to go downstairs. There is a little food mart downstairs, perhaps he got money from the guy and went downstairs to get something to eat. Or, he could have gotten nothing and instead of asking someone else who heard that exchange and would likely not give him money, went downstairs to wait it out until a new crowd moved in to the platform.
I took notice from the guy who answered the beggar’s request for money. Instead of just giving him something to go away he actively engaged him and asked him what he needed. If he needed a train ticket, would he spend the $8 to get him on his way? Would he walk the man downstairs and purchase him a sandwich to fill his empty belly? I was inspired and felt, “you know what, if faced with that decision again, that is what I am going to do inhidden;”>I began to think about all the “things” in my life that I wanted. I had realized that over the past few months as I was looking for a job I had begun making lists of “things” I wanted to be able to afford after I started making money again. New wheels for my car to replace the ones that were stolen, a new iMac so I could have more computing power for the things I wanted to do, even a doggy seat belt for Izzie because it would make my life easier just to hook her up to that than lug around her obtuse kennel around on day trips. I began to felt guilty for my desire for “things” that I had developed rather than enriching experiences in my life.
I told you that story to tell you this one.
Tonight I was waiting for my train from White Plains into Grad Central. As I walked on to the platform, a middle-aged man who looked and acted like he may have been slightly mentally disabled asked me for a dollar. I lied and said I didn’t have any cash on me. I sat down and watched as he walked on down and asked someone else for change. Instead of what I had said earlier, he said “Where are you going? Are you going to buy a ticket with it?” and instead the guy said, “no I wanted to by food.” I couldn’t really hear the end of the conversation but it ended with the beggar hitting the elevator button to go downstairs. There is a little food mart downstairs, perhaps he got money from the guy and went downstairs to get something to eat. Or, he could have gotten nothing and instead of asking someone else who heard that exchange and would likely not give him money, went downstairs to wait it out until a new crowd moved in to the platform.
I took notice from the guy who answered the beggar’s request for money. Instead of just giving him something to go away he actively engaged him and asked him what he needed. If he needed a train ticket, would he spend the $8 to get him on his way? Would he walk the man downstairs and purchase him a sandwich to fill his empty belly? I was inspired and felt, “you know what, if faced with that decision again, that is what I am going to do instead!”
I should have learned in the past that when I make promises to myself like that I am very quickly confronted by God/Fate/karma to test me. Tonight, my friend Sloan and I were walking out of The Bitter End after having a mediocre beer while listening to a mediocre band. As we decided to call it a night, a man walked up to us and asked if we could spare any change. I shook my head and asked him, “What do you need?” He told me he wanted to buy some food. I told him that I would buy him food instead of giving him money. ‘Lo and behold, a food truck was sitting just a few dozen feet away, open for business. I asked him what he wanted and he pointed to the #6 juicy cheeseburger.
As he ordered up another beggar he knew from the streets, walked up to him to say hello, also not wasting a moment to try and get a few bucks from us. Boy, God/Fate/karma was really pushing it tonight! I can’t remember exactly what was said but I agreed to buy him a burger too instead of giving him the money (he looked obviously drunk.) While we waited for the burgers to cook, the drunk beggar walked away, I’m assuming to use a restroom, but later thinking it might have been because I was pressing the other guy about why he was begging and what was going on in his life, looking back he might not have wanted me to ask him that.
The first beggar was very enthusiastic. He was missing a tooth or two at the front of his mouth but it didn’t keep him from smiling at us as we talked. He told us about how he was 5 months sober and began to recite the age-old mantra of the AA meetings as he pulled out his membership coins. I’m not all too familiar with what goes down at an AA meeting but I think I’ve seen enough shows and soap operas to glean that a coin is for a certain time period that you’re clean. He had two. He explained that this was his second time trying the AA thing and that he had relapsed a year or two before. He told us about the different half-way homes he had tried to live in and about how his things were stolen at one of them.
It was at this time that a young woman approached us with a cardboard sign about how her boyfriend dumped her and threw her out on the street so he could live with his new play thing. (Okay, so third time’s the charm, God?) She looked extremely tired, she was pretty lucid so I don’t think the look was from drugs. I also asked her if she was hungry, she declined and said someone else had already given her a sandwich.
After what seemed like an eternity, the burgers were done and the other beggar showed up to claim it. At least the first beggar was nice enough to chat with us while we waited to give him his food. The men grabbed their packages and immediately dug in and we said our good-byes and they blessed us with a couple hugs as we wished them to stay warm for the night.
I still don’t know if what I did was the “right” thing to do because I don’t know if those men or women were who they said they were (homeless) or if they were users out to make an easy buck. For all I know they will just go back to begging and never find the strength to find a proper living. However, I have decided that it was the right decision for me to make for myself at that time to try and do something different than to just ignore the situation.

Tonight I spent $12 to buy two beggars on the street food. I’ve never done that before. What on Earth would possess me to do that?

Before I answer that question, I’ll preface it with some explanation.

I lived in downtown-“ish” Boston for the better part of 5 years while I studied for my undergraduate degree. While walking to and from different places (some say you can get to anywhere in Boston by walking in about 15 minutes) you tend to meet some interesting people. Especially around the liquor store right on the edge of campus which also happened to be right next to a half-way house (yes, that sounds like a very good idea to me!) Over the years I’ve perfected the “don’t look at them in the eye and just move on” or the “bluff” and say “no, I don’t have any change I can spare” even though you know you could probably spare some coin but justify it with “I’m a poor college student.”

And you know what, I don’t blame anyone who thinks that way because more often than not I think that way. What do you suppose beggars use their money for? Booze? Drugs? Sex? Probably all three at one time or another. So why should someone just give money to a beggar when they don’t know what that money is going to be used for?

I’ve thought about giving money to the homeless or even volunteering my time to help others. I’ve just never seemed to be at that point in my life where I was able to branch out and stop worrying about myself and be able to share or even give to another person. A lot of times growing up I was either too self-absorbed or just had too much going on in my life to even consider being able to help someone else when my life needed so much help.

When I moved out to New York last year, I had a job, I had a place to live and I was by myself for the most part (save for Izzie always being around and the times Adam stopped on by.) I was someone “jealous” that Adam was able to volunteer his own time to become an EMT and be able to legitimately go out and save someone’s life on a nightly basis (and all this with a full-time day job, no less!) What could lil’ ol’ me do on the week nights to stave the boredom? I had thought about going to a Human Society shelter and volunteering there a few nights a week but it turns out even shelters close for the evenings at around 4, that doesn’t work for someone who worked in a Start-up environment. The feeling of charity eventually subsided and crawled back into the abyss which is my soul to fester – *cough* I mean hibernate, and I had nearly forgotten about my desire to “give back.”

Fast forward to last night. I’ve been unemployed for almost 3 months now as I wait for my new job to start next week. I’m standing in the oral hygiene isle at CVS down the street from my apartment because I’ve seemed to run out of toothpaste although I swear I bought two tubes the last time I was out (I always seem to be running out of toothpaste, my Adam has it as a snack?) Since I’ve been unemployed for 3 months, money was getting a little tight. I had to ask my mother that same day to lend me some money so I could pay February’s rent since my job got pushed back yet another week (damn bureaucracy!) The toothpaste cost $5.99. I contemplated about getting two tubes but decided not, “that’s $16! I don’t have enough for that!” As I walked to the register with my toothpaste in hand, I spent a couple minutes looking at the Valentine’s candy that was on display and picked out a bag of “fun-size” Kit-Kats (thinking about Adam, who loves the things) and heart-shaped York Peppermint Patties because I hadn’t had them in a really long time. I paid and then went home.

After chomping on a few Kit-Kats since I was starving and waiting for dinner to be done, I happened to look at the receipt that I shoved in the bag. It cost just as much for me to buy that damn candy than it would have been for me to buy that other tube of toothpaste. Ugh. Why was it okay for me to spend it on an obsession (chocolate) rather than something hygienic (toothpaste?)

I began to think about all the “things” in my life that I wanted. I had realized that over the past few months as I was looking for a job I had begun making lists of “things” I wanted to be able to afford after I started making money again. New wheels for my car to replace the ones that were stolen, a new iMac so I could have more computing power for the things I wanted to do, even a doggy seat belt for Izzie because it would make my life easier just to hook her up to that than lug around her obtuse kennel around on day trips. I began to felt guilty for my desire for “things” that I had developed rather than enriching experiences in my life.

I told you that story to tell you this one.

Tonight I was waiting for my train from White Plains into Grad Central. As I walked on to the platform, a middle-aged man who looked and acted like he may have been slightly mentally disabled asked me for a dollar. I lied and said I didn’t have any cash on me. I sat down and watched as he walked on down and asked someone else for change. Instead of what I had said earlier, he said “Where are you going? Are you going to buy a ticket with it?” and instead the guy said, “no I wanted to by food.” I couldn’t really hear the end of the conversation but it ended with the beggar hitting the elevator button to go downstairs. There is

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By Rachel Ober

Rachel is a Ruby on Rails/Front-end Developer in Manhattan, New York. She loves figuring out answers to problems and making enjoyable user interfaces. When she isn't in front of a computer, she can be found running around with her sidekick, Isabella the Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

1 reply on “Feeding the Homeless”

Say what you will, but to me, I can’t think of any way buying someone a hot meal could be a bad thing. What they do with the energy and opportunity you’ve given them is there choice, but at least you gave them the chance. 🙂

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