Helping Those Who Ask For Money

Periodically, but especially in November and December, I contemplate my personal policy with regards to those who come up to me and ask me for money. Some folks, including a former pastor of mine, are adamant that one ought not to; there are registered charities for that purpose. I’ve not been comfortable with that absolutist position, though, and I take it on a case by case basis.

There was a day this fall, though, where my instincts were just…off. Something had happened at work earlier in the day that frustrated me. When I got off the bus downtown, a guy asked me for money to buy some food. As it turned out, we were right in front of a Subway sub shop. My first instinct was to say, “Hey, why don’t we go in here, and I’ll buy you a sub?” I had the time (it was a Thursday and choir was in an hour) and the means (a $5 sub wouldn’t break me). Moreover, I wouldn’t have to worry that the money was going to be used for another (“inappropriate”) purpose, and, by going into a well-lit restaurant, I would feel relatively safe and secure. But my answer was “no”; and it was as though I was watching myself say that, because it surely couldn’t have been me. It bothered me for DAYS, because my grumpiness had robbed me of the opportunity to do good.

It didn’t help that the lectionary reading a few weeks later was Matthew 25, all that good stuff about seeing the hungry and feeding them.

That wasn’t the only thing that went wrong that day. After that incident, I then went to the library and gave someone what turned out to be bad advise about whether he had time to get a coffee before his computer time came up; I didn’t realize that the computer clocks were 10 minutes fast, and he missed his turn, and had to rejoin the queue, so I felt badly about giving such lousy advice. I was so distraught that I didn’t even end up going to choir, but rather ended up calling a few of my friends, none of whom were home.

One of the factors about giving out money isn’t whether it’s a legit request; if they’re lying, it’s on them, not me. It IS about security, though, and I am loath to pull out my wallet in front of strangers, especially at night. I’ve recently started carrying dollar coins – another good use for them – which I can dig out of my pocket, which is also easier.

Do any of you struggle with this?

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3 thoughts on “Helping Those Who Ask For Money

  1. I raed this post earlier in the day, but had to think before responding. Having worked with people who spend every day trying to help the homeless and destitute, I know that handing over money is bad idea, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty when I see someone so obviously down on their luck. The weird thing is, when I walk past someone begging on the street, I wonder what they they think of me when I walk by when you’d imagine it would be the other way round.

  2. When people come to you and ask you for money, you never know what they are going to use it for. Plus it may seem unbelievable but a lot of the so called beggars might actually get a pretty decent income from their habbit and not be at all in need while some people have actual problems but are way to embarrased to ask strangers for help.

  3. This past summer I saw a young couple and their dog on the exit ramp with a sign for assistance while they “travel.” It was in the triple digits and I felt so sorry for the dog! I detoured into a nearby grocery store, bought some sandwiches, oranges, bottles of water and dog food, and then went back to find them. I have no idea if they were really traveling or not. I’d like to think they were. I haven’t seen them among the regular panhandlers in town, so I guess they may have been telling the truth.

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