I got lots of comments on my column supporting giving to beggars. I wrote the column expecting that I might produce only one or two notes of agreement, but my heart was lifted by the number of softhearted readers who, like me, give to beggars. Of course, there were a few like this one, from W:
In this day and age your answer was absolutely wrong! Enabling begging, alcohol and drug addicts exacerbates the problem!
Many of these people will not accept help from shelters because their addiction is more important to them! By funding their habit, you are making their circumstances worse.
Encourage people to give generously to shelters and organizations that assist the homeless. This is the Christian thing to do!
I respect that point of view, but I disagree with it. In our broken world, it is almost always the case that we cannot change the big things but can have an impact on little things. As Mother Teresa wrote, "God does not call us to do great things. God calls us to do small things with great love." Amen.
The following notes lifted my heart and convinced me that many people are doing small things with great love.
From K: I read your piece on giving to the homeless. So many people have the same questions in our church. So now we have prepared snack bags that have a short blessing attached. When we see homeless people, we hand them a bag and they are always appreciative. My husband and I have always felt that any money we give no matter where is given in God's name and no longer belongs to us and we don't question how it's used.
From J in New York: I have worked in NYC for the past 38 years. I, too, had a dilemma about giving to the less fortunate. I finally realized that I was in a better place than those who asked for a handout. I then made sure that I always had a couple of singles in my pocket and would give to anyone who asked. Or I would put a couple of granola bars in my pocket and distribute them. If there was someone I saw on a regular basis, I would ask if there was anything I could get them. Usually they would ask for personal hygiene items. If I ever saw tube socks for sale, I would also give them out. The bottom line is that God, for whatever I did, has granted me and my family a very comfortable life. Thank you very much for this article; if only more people felt this way and [did] not make assumptions, we would be a better society.
From N: I believe that most homeless people fall into two categories — people with mental health problems and those who fell into homelessness because of circumstances. I fell into the latter category and without the help of friends and family, I would have been living on the street. I agree with you saying not to judge others, assuming they are druggies or scammers. Most of these people are down on their luck and, as you said, who in their right mind would want to beg just to survive? It must be humiliating. I thank God every day for being here with me through the good and especially the bad things in life.
M from Gainesville, Florida: I thank you for the reply you wrote regarding giving money to beggars. I would like to add one thing: I sometimes see someone who is asking for handouts accompanied by a dog. Rather than just give money, I prefer picking up a small package of dog food to give them. They always accept it with a smile. One even said that he was sure that his friend would share it with him!
And my favorite response that came from B: I read your column often and often feel lifted up and given water by a greater soul than mine. I have traveled a lot and far these past six-plus decades. I have seen the beggars, the homeless, the needy, the liars, the helpless, the drug addicts, the lost, the hopeless, the lonely, the predators, the starving, the thieves, the spiritually bereft, the seekers, the musicians, the broken. This I avow to you: That every one of those descriptions of human behavior I have been and done! I give to anyone broken. I give that lousy dollar. Not to feel better about me. THEY are me! Greater souls than mine have pointed out that divinity is in the shadows of human action. My last gasp is a quote from you: "Great changes come from small change." I thank you with fondness and am looking forward.
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