To Give or Not to Give

What’s the right thing to do when you see a homeless person holding a sign asking for money or food?

Myrtle Beach has a shadow side. I’m not talking about the vacationers who like to party hearty or the golfers who go a little crazy when they get away from home. I’m not even talking about the “gentleman’s clubs” or adult entertainment establishments in the area. I’m talking about the homeless people I’ve seen here on the coast. Maybe they aren’t actually homeless. Maybe they’re just down on their luck. Maybe I’m too quick to slap that homeless label on someone because he looks dirty and is holding a sign saying he needs money and food.

The other afternoon my husband and I were sitting at a busy intersection waiting for the light to change when I saw a handsome young man holding such a sign. His countenance was somber and sad, and his clothing was dark and stained, quite unlike the light colored, touristy attire of the people I’d seen all day. Fumbling quickly through my purse before the light changed, I found five dollars and beckoned him over.  When I saw his teeth, I knew my hunch was right.

“He’ll never make it before the light changes,” my husband said. “He’s going to get stuck in the middle of the road.”

I ignored the warning as the young man approached the car. I gave him the money and hoped he’d buy a burger and fries with it. He thanked me and then disappeared between the lines of vehicles.

“How do you know he’ll buy food with that? Look, he’s already leaving his spot beside the road.” Otis commented.

“So? Maybe he’s going to get some food. And if not, then so be it. You can’t give someone something and then dictate what he does with it.”

The topic has come up a few times during the last few days. I’ve heard people say they’d gladly buy someone a burger or chicken combo but they’d never give them money. Why? Because the person might buy booze or drugs with it. But what if the person wants a pizza or a couple of tacos instead? Does your generosity apply only if you and only you get to decide on what the disadvantaged person eats?

I took one look at that sad young man and knew it wasn’t for me to judge him or his state of neediness. He could have been my sweet boy…or yours. And you know, it was only five bucks! We’d just paid twice that amount for each of us at Abuelo’s.

So I’m interested in your opinions. Should you give money with stipulations, or should you only give food? To take it a step farther, should there be strings attached to monetary gifts?


Author: jayne bowers

*married with children, stepchildren, grandchildren, in-laws, ex-laws, and a host of other family members and fabulous friends *semi-retired psychology instructor at two community colleges *writer

2 thoughts on “To Give or Not to Give”

  1. If I am moved to give someone something it is because the Spirit has prompted me. I don’t give with a stipulation attached. what they choose to do after a “gift” is given is their choice. I think the Lord blesses us when we do something with a generous and righteous intent.

    This is how I feel too. I love the hymn "Because I Have Been Given Much."

  2. You are a better person than I. I’m afraid that my first thought is that the money would go to a less-than-satisfactory end.

    Two thoughts:

    1–I strongly agree with President Hinckley’s comment some years ago that giving to the church through established means (fast offerings, perpetual education funds, etc.) is a guaranteed way for 100% of your donation to reach the target group. I also strongly believe that I’d rather give $100 to further someone’s ability to eventually care for themselves than $1 to feed them today. That’s not to say that immediate help is not needed or that it shouldn’t be supported, but rather that I would prefer to give towards self-sufficiency. It is the type of giving that leaves me most satisfied.

    2–At this stage of my life, I feel like I can honestly qualify for King Benjamin’s statement that we should give what we can. One day, I hope to be able to give vast amounts of both time and resources. I look forward to it then, and maybe by then I’ll be less cynical and willing to give at the stop light.

    Wow, Dave. I appreciate your stopping by and leaving such a great post. I agree with both of your statements and feel that with fast offerings and the humanitarian aid donations, we have several options of ways to help others. At the same time, something (the Spirit?) said to me, "He's a child of God too."

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