To Feed or Not to Feed: A Tale of Feeding the Homeless

As I was walking home today I was approached by two homeless people who both asked me the same question,

“Will you buy me something to eat?” 

I told the first, a woman standing on a street corner, “yes.” She proceeded to ask if I would get her a subway sandwich. We were only a block or so from the nearest Subway, so I said, “yes,” again. She then asked me for five dollars, changing her question to, “Will you give me five dollars for a Subway sandwich?” I told her I didn’t have cash, but would be more than happy to buy her a sandwich. She walked away from me, muttering. When I tried again to offer that sandwich she said, “No,” and walked away.

I went another block, stopping at a 7-Eleven to get a soda, and was confronted again. This time, the man, thin and worn around the edges, asked me if I would help him buy something to eat. He had a handful of quarters with him, which he held out to me. I refused the offered change, and told him I’d be more than happy to buy him some food. We walked in together and he asked me if he could have something sweet too. The way he asked, as if he expected me to say no or yell at him or simply walk away, broke my heart. Here was a fully grown man, begging me for a candy-bar like a child. I felt the strongest prompting in that moment to tell him, “You can get whatever you want.” Now I don’t make a lot of money, so this could easily have been to my detriment, but I trusted the spirit and I went with it. I watched him walk around the small store, picking up small containers of cereal, a sandwich, a large water bottle and a large mountain dew, as well as a few other items. He kept looking back at me, like I might disappear the moment he stopped paying attention, but of course I didn’t. I walked up to the cashier, pointed to the man she was eyeing with distaste, and said, “I’ve got him. Whatever he puts down here. I’ve got it.”

Now, he didn’t go crazy, and I didn’t even end up spending more than $20, but he thanked me repeatedly, and I knew that, whatever the circumstances that brought him to this point in his life, he wasn’t trying to swindle me or trick me into buying him food. In fact, he was eating the chicken strips before we were out of the store. It would have been easy, I thought to myself, to have ignored the second man because of the attitude of the first woman, whom I had tried to help already. Having been rebuffed would have been all the justification I needed for walking by the man without saying a word, for telling myself, “He’s probably just trying to cheat me out of my hard-earned money.” But I felt something that made me pause, and I followed it.

There are all kinds of people in this world, which makes it impossible to generalize a person based on his or her situation. No two homeless people are alike, just like no two passerby on the street are. I don’t often go around giving money to the homeless – I pay tithing, and I give to charities who do more good than my spare change probably does – but today I was extremely fortunate to have been able to follow the promptings of the spirit and help someone who needed it.

It was the best $20 I’ve ever spent.

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