I recall a family vacation to Mexico when I was young.
I spent all my cash in our first stop, the Tijuana marketplace. Everyone came home with a variety of trinkets and souvenirs.
Me? I had a bolsa of chicle.
How could I resist small children with big, sad eyes?
Yes, I was naïve, but it still made my heart hurt. To this day, I’d like to believe that the lifetime supply of small square gum I bought helped to feed their little bellies.
To be honest, I carried this common burden of guilt and sadness for people in need into my adulthood. The hungry, the homeless, the sign holders.
I would say a prayer for them right before I climbed into my plush pillow top bed with an overstuffed down comforter.
Like so many others, I would pass by them every day on my way to work or school and give a shameful smile from my shiny new Chevy.
But no worries, that guilt was temporarily alleviated as I turned over my spare change, or even handed off a dollar or two and hurried on my way.
Once, I gave an old man my coffee. How bold.
Then, reality struck.
I called myself a humanitarian? How could I when my heart didn’t ache for the man right in front of me? When did I stop making eye contact? When did I no longer feel the cold, the hunger, the pain?
Charitable? I think not.
I wasn’t looking past the cardboard sign. I was the reason for my own guilt and sadness. Yes, I was giving, but not with the right intentions.
“Will Work For Food.”
“Hungry, please spare change.”
“Homeless. Anything Helps.”
We’ve all seen these signs. But, who is holding them?
It’s simple. They are people, like you and me.
The man pushing the shopping cart. The woman in the wheelchair. The pregnant woman on the corner. They are human beings with broken hearts, but valuable lives, most often with families.
One rainy Saturday it all changed for me.
My daughter and I were cruising through town and came to a stop sign. On the corner stood a middle aged couple huddled under one tattered umbrella, drenched from head to toe, holding a cardboard sign that read:
“Homeless–Cold, Wet, Hungry. Need ponchos, tarps, socks, blankets, soap, candles, matches, canned food. Anything to Survive. God Bless.”
I paused. I stared at the change in my ashtray. I didn’t want to, not this time.
What was the $1.25 in dimes going to do for them?
I turned the car into the nearby store and proceeded to buy as many items on that list as I could. I was determined to make a difference that day. I was going to feel their pain and let it guide me.
I returned to the couple with the care package, talked briefly and hugged warmly.
We connected, I heard their story.
I’ve never told anyone about that morning until today. To truly give is to do so without the need to tell.
Now, this isn’t to say the occasional spare change isn’t helpful. Of course, it can buy a soothing hot coffee, or a bite to eat.
Do I expect anyone (including myself) to run out and try to meet the needs of everyone out there? No.
However, we can all slow down and remember to be mindful of others.
Especially those who are holding signs.
Stop and talk to victims of homelessness. Make eye contact, shake their hands and remind them there is hope.
Buy them a coffee and a sandwich. Make a difference in their day.
This is why I stopped giving sign holders my spare change and started sharing my heart.
For more ways to help, please contact local shelters or resource agencies.
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Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Catherine Monkman