This week I had the pleasure of hearing the new experiences of a retiree who, having been called to do volunteer work, offered her talents and services to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. She is in a training period in which she is learning to discern how and whether, and to what extent, people and families would receive assistance. She said that as an educator she had been made privy,
over the years, to the difficult social situations of some of her students and their families. But now, doing charity work 'in the ditches' she admitted she really has a much clearer idea of the grave situations in which some families find themselves.
One day last week she said within the first hour of opening their doors there were 50 people seeking help with food vouchers, overdue bills, rent vouchers, or clothes -- situations the common denominator of which is mainly joblessness and homelessness.
She also became aware, among other things, that a small group of homeless are living in a tuck-a-way corner of the vacant Broadwater golf course, not visible from the busy Pass Road. There are others living in cars.
She said some of those seeking food and who also live away from soup kitchens have transportation issues and come seeking actual food. While resources are limited, on some days they hand out sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs. Some admit seeking food in dumpsters. This reminded me of a remarkable and fascinating
essay I read a while back by Lars Eighner entitled “On Dumpster Diving”. In this frequently anthologized essay he gives a detailed account and explanation of how to safely eat out of dumpsters. He wrote it after enduring a three-year period in which he was homeless and was living on the street. When I read it I was stunned at the interesting insights and practical and novel approach he provided. It’s one of the best essays I’ve ever read and I’d encourage you to read it if you want an eye-opener on the art, science, and health of getting your meals from a dumpster.
Unfortunately, in her yet brief training period, she has already encountered a few who take advantage of those who administer charity. People who are unwilling to cut off some of the ‘luxuries’ of daily life, like cable TV and such. One person presented requesting help with an overdue cable TV bill. In
the same vein, I remember a fellow who once admitted to me he would sell his monthly EBT food card, like a debit card for food stamps, on which was put $200 every month. He would sell it at a discount for $150 cash and then take the cash and buy liquor and nabs. That's just how he wished to live. I'm sure this is replicated across the country.
Then again, there are others who give back and even pay forward with their appreciation in being helped. She shared that there’s a woman who in the past was helped in a time of need and comes personally on a monthly basis and gives out $500 vouchers for food in appreciation and in gratitude for the help she received when she was down and out. The lady had been homeless, and long story short, worked her way back up, went to school, had a great job and now was doing well.
While there will always be those who will take advantage of the compassion and charity of others I suppose one should be careful as to how they levy judgment on those seeking assistance. But a volunteer once told me that if we harshly scrutinized every person coming for help that we would probably end up not helping very many people, if any. I find myself on guard probably more times than I’d like to admit when encountering situations in public where people approach asking for help. We must be careful not to paint everyone with the same moral, ethical, or for that matter, religious and political brush.
During this season in which emphasis is placed on helping those who are less fortunate, if your resources are able to accommodate this need, erring on the side of kindness and sympathy will more likely than not, in the long run, go towards helping relieve another's needs than be 'wasted' for the purpose for which it's intended. And regardless if it is or isn't, then there's another
Judgment we will all, some day, have to answer to.