Rules for giving

She was really quite insistent about eating cake.

I have a deeply held personal belief about giving money to people on the street: I don’t do it.

My first real job after graduate school (not counting telemarketing for the Baltimore Opera Company) took place on an inpatient drug treatment unit at the Veterans’ Hospital. The patients were mostly men and mostly addicted to crack. Many were on their second or third time through the unit, and most had elaborate stories about the lying, cheating and stealing that went along with their addictions.

It was hearing those stories that made me decide that I’d never give money to someone on the street. I don’t mean to say that everyone panhandling on the street is looking to buy some drugs, strung out on drugs or a druggie.  I just made the decision to act like they all are just in case.  I’m not necessarily proud of this decision, but I like have a rule.

I do, however, give food to people who say that they are hungry.  In fact I have developed a guide to providing food to hungry people on the street:

  1. The food should have some kind of nutritive value. Such foods are or contain vegetables or fruits.
  2. The food should be “hand-held,” meaning it can be consumed without a fork or spoon. I don’t want to de-humanize someone by forcing them to eat applesauce with their hands.
  3. The food should be easily stored so that some can be saved for later.
  4. The food should be soft. Homelessness, drug use and diseases can be murder on the teeth and gums.  You can’t assume that granola bars will be a treat.
  5. The food should be filling.  Cakes and breads can quiet hunger pangs.

So, given these rules, I have determined that one of the best foods to offer to a hungry person on the street is… Fig Newtons.

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One Response to Rules for giving

  1. Todd Vetter says:

    My first job out of college was working as the doormen at the Hilton Hotel in Portland. A lot of homeless people in Portland in those days, many of whom were Vietnam veterans and almost all suffering from some mental illness. I always felt conflicted about how to respond to them, until one of them punched one of our security guards for trying to push him off the sidewalk. Then I gave them money all the time.

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