More Than Meatloaf Can Do

As I left the bank yesterday morning, there was a scruffy man on the corner holding a sign that read:

I don't give cash to anyone on the street, but as I drove home, I thought about what kind of lunch bag I could put together and bring back to the fellow.  It would be the third time I've tried to do this.

Twice before, after seeing a worn and weathered stranger with a sign, I've traveled somewhere to get some food and returned to the site.  Twice, the stranger has been gone.

This time I was lucky.  When I returned to the bank with a meatloaf sandwich and some crackers, the man was still there.  I handed him the bag and then chatted with him a bit.

Did he know about the local soup kitchen?  Was he looking for work?  Did he have family?

He did know about the soup kitchen, but had no car.  He sometimes took the bus, but currently was recovering from a broken leg (he wore a knee brace) and could not walk to the bus site.  He was looking for work; he was working construction when he hurt his leg.  He had registered with CITA for a job, but there was a month's waiting list.  He hated standing on the corner with a sign.  He would never want his mother to know he was doing this.

He was thrilled to have a meatloaf sandwich.  His blue eyes smiled as he told me he had not had a meatloaf sandwich in five years.  He shook my hand and thanked me several times.

As I drove away, I saw him light up a cigarette.  I don't know his personal story...and I know addictions are demons...but, he could have had something to eat for the price of the nicotine.  

Every encounter with the homeless/hungry/jobless is heart-tugging for me (I have written about this before.)  It escapes me why, in a country with so much, there are people who don't have what they need.  I know personal choices play a role.  I know those who have a lot may chose not to help.  I know government plays a part, but it seems impossible to balance - it encroaches either too much, or too little. 

I know there are myriad reasons why the poor will always be with us.  And, we will never find the perfect system in this life, because we don't agree on the solutions. So, sadly, nothing is likely to permanently change.

Luckily, in my little corner of the world, meatloaf is around to stay as well.

How do you react to a needy person on the streets?  Do you think there are solutions to the problem? I'd like to read your thoughts. 


Juli said...

When I lived in Boston my then fiance (I didn't end up marring him) would come home every Friday night with a six pack of beer (two missing) and half a pizza. Every. Friday. Night.

Finally I asked him if I needed to pack a bigger lunch because he was so hungry coming home at night.

Turns out, he would stop at the liqur store, buy the six pack and give one to the homeless guy on the corner. Then he'd give him two slices and sit and eat with him.

Every. Friday. Night.

This man had issues, no doubt. But he was still a person. I have no idea what happened to that man when we moved away. I'd like to think that someone else gave him pizza, but it's doubtful.

But maybe now someone is giving him a meatloaf sandwich....wouldn't that be awesome?

Melanie said...

You are an angel. I always think of one of those corny email forwards that you get that basically said that you never know when someone who others look down on is really Jesus. Would we walk away from Him? Most people wouldn't, and I try to think of the homeless the same way. We have a huge problem with it in our downtown, and my husband finally had to stop carrying cash because he could never say 'no'. I can't always give money to everyone, but there are times I feel "called" to do so and I do. I always feel like it makes me feel better than it does them. I know there are people out there who pretent to be homeless only to climb into a big car and drive away with the cash they collected that day, or other homeless who use the cash for booze or cigarettes, but at the end of the day I can rest knowing that I did my best with the best of intentions, and what they do with that is their choice.

Rita said...

Honestly, I seldom have more than a dollar on me, so I never had money to give away. And when I was driving, I didn't have the gas money to be going back there again. But years ago, when I smoked--I always had some cigarettes on me and extra matches--so I could give a couple of those away. I think giving them food is a better idea.

But when I was a teen and a vagrant one summer (smoker) people often gave me cigarettes and even a pack now and then--and I remembered that. I really appreciated it when people bought me food--even if it was an ice cream cone! But, at the time, if I had to choose between food and cigarettes--I would have taken the cigarettes. So glad I quit smoking back in 1989. I can't even imagine what a pack cost these days. ;)

pammustard said...

I think that was very admirable of you to give that guy some food. I would think no one ever WANTS to be on the street and I doubt there are many that do it as a "get rich quick" scheme. I mean who wants to have to lower their dignity to that level? My heart goes out to the homeless. No one knows the path they've travelled and there is always room for compassion. I would think 98% of them are mentally ill or addicted to alcohol and the other 2% are kids who come from abusive/negelectful homes. I give them money if I have any and whisper to myself "but by the grace of God go I".

Dana said...

You're a wonderful person to do this. I saw a homeless man today as I was driving home from storytime, and I wish I could have done something for him. Your post has inspired me to be more compassionate to the needs of those around me. As the person above me wrote, "there but for the grace of God go I."

Chatty Crone said...

I always give a dollar or two - made a promise to myself. I don't know of a permanent solution. sandie

Funny in My Mind said...

You really are an angel. I never have cash on me but my mother in law used to stop at fast food places and grab food for people begging. A few times it worked out but other times they were very rude to her and insisted money would be better.

betty said...

We do a little of everything; give money to a homeless shelter, brought food for homeless shelter, give money to people on streets; bought food for people at fast food restaurants who said they were hungry, had a homeless friend of my son's live with us for a bit and feed him (but unfortunately he stole a little bit of money, under $10 so we couldn't have him stay any longer there, but I always tried to send food with son if I knew he would be seeing his friend).

I don't think there will be a solution; Jesus said we'll always have the poor with us....

My heart goes out to the families with young kids who are homeless...

you were very kind and generous in what you did for this stranger (who could have been an angel :)


Funny in My Mind said...

I gave you an award!

Lynn Proctor said...

i know i don't always stop and we women especially can't be too careful--but that being said---your post almost makes me cry---i know there are a lot of people taking advantage out there--but i thank you for taking the time to help him--we never know who is an angel in disguise--God bless your tender heart<3

Melanie said...

Hey, I gave you an award on my blog in case you're looking for blog fodder.

Elizabeth said...

Mare, thanks for letting me know you wrote about this too. My life has been so crazy lately that I might have missed this post. So much of what you said is also on my heart regarding excess, need and life choices. Because of a RAOK challenge on took on, this week I gave a homeless man money on the street, something I never do. He looked so decent and tidy that I thought how humiliating it must be to be begging. And if he was a scammer? Well I'd rather be a generous fool than a stingy one.
I loved the fact that you went back to bring lunch to the man on the street, how you went the extra mile to meet a need, just like Jesus.

Aneta said...

I support ministries that help the homeless. I've always felt awkward when someone is standing near a store entrance asking for money. Most of the time I don't carry any change with me,though. Once I felt impressed to feed a homeless man that came right up to me and told me he was hungry. I promised him I'd get him some lunch from the local A&W Restaurant, but when I returned he was gone. I suppose he didn't believe me when i said I would buy him lunch. Another time I decided to make eye contact and smile at a guy who was standing on a street corner while I was driving by. Instead of pretending he wasn't there (as I usually do, because it's just awkward), I looked him right in the eye and smiled, and he smiled back. There wasn't anything more I could do on that busy street, except say a prayer. Poverty is a sad thing. Every little bit helps, though.

Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

What would I do to be honest I have no idea we don't see a lot of homeless people around where I live in fact I can't remember the last time I saw a homeless person.

Stacy said...

Those folks on the street with signs are a complicated matter, aren't they? On the one hand, they tug at my heartstrings and I want to help them with all my being...on the other hand, I know that some are not on the up and up. What to do? I usually weigh each situation individually. Like you, I will not give them cash. I will give them food or something else they say they need (we had a man by our local grocery and Kmart one year begging for food for Christmas dinner and gifts for his kids). I believe, as a Christian it's my duty to care for those less fortunate, but that doesn't mean we let them take advantage. It's a bit of a balancing act.

Danielle L Zecher said...

I think you're right that it's even harder to find a solution when people don't even agree what the solution might be.

I rarely encounter homeless people when I'm out and about, so I've never been in exactly the situation you were in. I do agree with you about not giving a person money.

I agree with Lynn that in today's world we do have to be very careful about interacting with stangers. It's sad, but true. And it has made me very uncomfortable the few times I've been approached by someone asking for money.

I'm a big fan of donating to soup kitchens and food pantries. If you shop the sales and use coupons you can get a lot for a little.

Marianne (Mare) Baker Ball said...

Juli - I love this story.

Mel - true, authentic comments. Thank you.

Rita - can't imagine you ever being a vagrant!

Pam and Dana - you are right, if not for the grace of God...it could be us.

Lynn - you are right, there is always a risk in helping a stranger. It's a step in faith.

Eliz. - I love that...I'd rather be a generous fool than a stingy one. Thank you!

Aneta -it probably is the best way to help...giving to orgs. that help the needy.

Stacy - you are right, it is a balancing act.

for those of you who don't see many homeless people, I think that's a good thing. I was encouraged to read that most everyone does SOMETHING for those less fortunate. Thanks for all the comments!

Anonymous said...

I have bought lunch for people begging on the road before. A few times, they scoffed at my offering, and wanted cash instead. We do have several places in this town to get help--food banks, soup kitchens, shelters, churches. Sometimes it's a matter of transportation. Sometimes it's a matter of there just not being enough resources to go around. And sometimes it's just a matter of choice.

Still, it breaks my heart, and I feel called to try to help the indigent as much as I can. I just don't feel comfortable giving them straight cash.


Karen Lange said...

I'd do the same type of thing. So glad you had an opportunity to speak to him.

Have a great weekend,

kim said...

I used to always give them money or stop at a fast food place and pick up some food for them. Unfortunately, where we live homelessness is a full time job for some. I've had police men tell me not to give these people anything because they probably make more money than we do! It is crazy and I hate to feel myself desensitizing to the situation.

LL Cool Joe said...

I just popped over from Mari's blog. We have a great many homeless people here in the UK too. My parents helped run a floating shelter in our church. For a couple of months each winter the church would open up in the evenings and give homeless people a cooked meal, bed and breakfast one day a week, and then other churches in the area did another night each week.

It went really well and there were a great many very grateful people

Dawn M. Hamsher said...

The guy had two dogs. His sign said he needed a sleeping bag, a tent, and dog food. We had all those things, but when we got back, he was gone.

Great story about the meatloaf sandwich.

Judy said...

My sweet daughter, who is 19, can never pass a homeless person, or someone on the corner asking for help. She has this need to help them, bless her heart. Just today she made me drive through McDonalds because she had seen someone on the corner holding up a sign. She calls these people "Billy" just because she doesn't like to call them "homeless" or "hobos."