Thursday, January 29, 2015

Helping the Homeless

I am not impulsively generous.  Sad but true.  Being married to an accountant for almost 34 years has trained me to be mindful of charitable giving – when, to whom, and how much. 

So I've never rolled down my window and handed money to a homeless person holding a cardboard sign.  My cynicism (he’s not really homeless; he’ll work this corner, rake in a few bucks, go home and change his clothes and go to the bar) and paranoia (what if he pulls a knife on me and steals my car?) have conspired to keep me inside my car with doors locked and windows tightly closed.

We give to both The Road Home and the Utah Food Bank.  The Road Home provides emergency shelter and a variety of programs that help individuals and families step out of homelessness & back into our community.  The Utah Food Bank’s mission statement is simple:  Fighting Hunger Statewide.  We are confident that our donations to these two organizations are being wisely used to fight homelessness and hunger.  Most advocates for the homeless advise us to give to non-profits who provide services rather than directly to the people on the streets.

But the day before yesterday I observed an interaction that got me thinking.  I was second from the light on the freeway off-ramp.  An older man, bearded, wearing an old coat and a stocking cap, stood on the corner of the intersection, holding his cardboard sign in front of his torso.  I didn’t notice whether or not he was wearing gloves.  His eyes were blue. 

The large black Dodge truck ahead of me rolled down his window and called to him.  The man walked to the window and was handed a flat Styrofoam box.  It looked like a fast-food breakfast meal.  He took the box back to the corner.  His mouth moved and hands gestured a “thank you” and a “God bless you.” 

Then, before opening the box, he looked up to the sky and closed his eyes.  A few seconds later, he took a bite of the food inside the box.  I saw him smile.

The man may have been an exceptional actor. (Oops.  I try to keep the cynic in me contained.)  But what I saw – or thought I saw – was genuine gratitude and a genuine nod to the Giver of all things.  I blinked back a tear.  As I drove around the corner, I thought about the kindness and generosity of the owner of that big black truck.

No, I’m not impulsively generous.  But maybe, just once, I should be.

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