Thursday, June 4, 2009

Freedom to Eat has a New Meaning

Things are tough, everywhere. So many people are finding themselves in dire financial situations, as jobless rates continue to climb and the economy stays locked in a recession. It is all around us, on the news, home "for sale" signs are everywhere, businesses are closing their doors and there are more and more people in need than there have been in a long time. Today my son and I were shopping at Target and two people approached us and asked us if we could help them. This is something that used to happen on occasion outside the store, but now people are getting more personal with their requests. One woman came up to me and told me that she liked the shirt that I was wearing and wanted to know where I had bought it. When she had me in conversation, she asked me if I could please give her money. She seemed like a professional, so I refused. Living in LA I often run into these people. And then another woman came up to me at my car and as soon as I saw her eyes, I just knew... she was desperate. She asked me if I could please do something to help her and her family. She was dressed like any other person. She had her hair done and was wearing make-up. Not homeless. But she truly seemed like a person in need, definitely NOT a professional. I told her that I could not help her. And then watched her walk into the store. I decided that I did want to help her, but not with cash. I watched her as she walked into the bathroom. I decided to buy her a $10 gift card from Target. When I went into the bathroom to try and find her, I found her crying behind a bathroom stall. This was a woman who was at her end. I handed her the card and gave her a smile. "I hope that this will help you, a little." And then she smiled and thanked me from the bottom of her heart.

When I lived in New York City, I once had a conversation with a man who had been homeless for 10 years but then picked himself up and created a better life for himself. Everything he said to me has stuck with me, on a deep level. He advised me to never, NEVER give a homeless person money. He said that 99% of homeless people are on drugs or are alcoholics. Any money that they panhandle, they take and spend it on their vices, rather than food or shelter. He offered that the best way to help someone in need is to buy them food, take them to a shelter or to give money to a shelter or charity directly. Since that conversation, I have done as he said. My family contributes to charities whenever we are able to. When I go to Costco, I often buy extra food to give to the food drive at Ella's school. I feel like I have been helping to make a difference but it seems like there are so many in need right now. It breaks my heart and makes me appreciate all that I have, all at the same time. But because we are in a good place in our lives, I feel like it was be so wrong for me to ignore people like the woman in the parking lot.

Since I am often with my children, I know that we have to be careful who we talk to. I am a pretty good judge of character and can spot a con from a mile away. So I am trying to figure out the best way to handle these situations, in the future. When I got home I decided to do a little research about ways to help those that are unfortunate. I found this great charity guide that makes it easy for people who may want to help but do not know where to begin.

I wish that there was a gift card that I could buy that acted like food stamps; one that allowed a person to be able to buy food and medication but not alcohol or cigarettes. It would be wonderful to be able to carry around something like that and to hand them out, as needed. But so far, I cannot find anything like that. I may go buy a bunch of gift cards from local stores in $5 amounts and keep those with me. Still trying to figure it all out. But I really want to do something that can make a difference, even just a little.

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