Saturday, February 28, 2009

Giving on the streets of New York

Hi all, I've missed blogging and keeping up with my favorite bloggers the past few weeks!

Soon after I wrote my last entry, I came down with a nasty cold, and then the operational tempo at work dramatically increased. My birthday was last week, and it happened to be the craziest day I have ever experienced at my current job. Thankfully, Michael was able to spirit me away at the end of day for some unbelievably delicious Indian food.

But the upshot of all this is that I have not been progressing towards my goal of finding ways to get involved in a charity locally.

However, I did have a small revelation yesterday that I wanted to share.

Yesterday, there was a hint of spring in the air. It was warm enough to walk around with my coat unbuttoned, so I decided to eat a quick lunch in Bryant Park, which is just around the corner from my office.

As I was starting to eat my sandwich, a scruffy, middle-aged man came up to my little table and asked, "Would you be able to help a combat veteran with some change? Anything would be a blessing."

I made a pained expression. I hate feeling cold hearted; however, panhandling is one of those tricky situations in any city.

First of all, you never know where your money is going to go. Will it be for alcohol or drugs? That's why it's usually better to give to an organization, instead.

Second of all, could this be a professional panhandler? There is a woman that stands at the corner of my building every morning with a "homeless" sign and has done so for the past few years. We're talking Fifth Avenue and lots of foot traffic, so this seems like more of a "job" for her.

Thirdly, pulling your wallet out on the street is never a good idea, safety-wise.

Most of the time when I have been approached, I have just given the person a sad look and said, "I'm sorry." Sometimes a particular situation has prompted me to go home and make a donation to an established charity.

But yesterday, I couldn't look away when the man asked me. There was something in his eyes, and I thought of the economic realities that are more dire than ever for anyone who needs help. The options quickly flashed through my mind: just say "sorry," open my purse and fumble for my wallet...nothing seemed right or a street-safe option. Then I looked down at the table and saw what I hadn't eaten of my lunch.

"Would you like half of my sandwich?" I asked. The man seemed taken aback. He said, "Aww. Really? Are you sure you don't want that?" I said, "No, please take it." He thanked me, took the sandwich, and then disappeared.

And then I was hit by the revelation. It was so simple, really. If you're unsure of giving money, then give food.

On my way back to the office, I thought of how my favorite Nature Valley granola bars have been such a godsend when I have been hungry while traveling, etc. So I bought a few to have in my purse, ready to give out if someone needy approaches me. At least I can give them something.

I know tons of people must have already figured this out, so this is nothing new. But I'm glad that I finally was able to realize a way to not feel paralyzed by the dilemma of giving on the streets of New York.

I want to know: what are your strategies when approached on the street?

5 comments:

mom said...

Holly, it was so good to see
that you have a new blog entry and very interesting to learn about your encounter with the man in the park. I was relieved and very happy to know that he reacted the way he did to your offering him some of your food. Your idea about carrying some extra snack or granola bars with you reminded me of a project in our church that is being run by the parish nurse ministry. They have been collecting tube socks and granola bars this winter. These items are packed in small bags and given to shelters and other charitable organizations for distribution to people in need, especially those who are homeless and living for the most part "on the streets".

Gena said...

I think it's wonderful what you're doing. Our homeless are not out where you can see them. I think that's why they are sometimes forgotten. I do live in a very giving community which I love. I have always given all I can, down to my last dime, if need be. I always will.
I have added a large area on my blog for angel food ministries. Please take a look. I would love to get the word out about this organization. So many are not aware of it and, one of the many good things about it, you don't have to be needy, low income....it is available for everyone.

Natasha said...

This is a great post! I've always thought giving food was a good alternative to money but I've never really been around any food place when I am approached. So carrying granola bars is a great idea. I'm going to start doing that. It's good to see you're back to blogging after a break.

Holly said...

Mom, Gena, and Natasha, thank you for the comments! Let's keep the good ideas flowing!

kiwimeg said...

That is such a great idea! I guess there are all kinds of little things that you can keep handy to give when asked - little packs of personal care items, warm socks, food . . . maybe even gift vouchers for somewhere useful . . .