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When not to be charitable

April 1, 2013 - Carrie Olson
“Give me fifty cents.”

“I don’t have it.”

Let me set the scene for you. The downtown 1 train at 11:30 p.m. on a Thursday. After attending a Holy Thursday event at a cathedral on the Upper West Side, we were heading back to Jersey City. Normally, I am not a fan of taking the subway (especially the 1) late at night in NYC, and take a cab. But when I am accompanied by my boyfriend, I don’t feel completely vulnerable. Yet – here we were, yet again being pursued by an aggressive panhandler.

“You laughing at me, b*#$#?”

I lifted my head. “Uh, no I was not.” The panhandler was inches from my face, accusing me of something untrue. He was eyeing my designer handbag in my lap, and was obviously not pleased with my “no change” answer. Fortunately, my boyfriend took over from there and told him to get going. That wasn’t the end of the story and we had to get off the train to avoid an uglier situation.

This wasn’t the first; when I bartended on Broadway, I would have to walk through the Times Square which is rampant with beggars. Tourists are much more willing to give (with higher funds), so this area is filled with people with signs asking for money. Yet, in many of those scarier situations, police officers were around and the panhandler would back off. I’m asked at least a few times a day for money, and at first, I gave a lot; even when I had very little. Now, I’m a bit (or a lot more) selective.

First of all, I’m not going to open my purse on a subway – it’s just not going to happen (unless I’m reaching for my pepper spray). And second, I am definitely not giving to people who demand it. No. I'm also not going to give to people using their children or pets to try to sway me - that is just awful and angering

According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 50,000 people slept in homeless shelters in NYC in January. It’s a staggering – and shocking – fact. And a few of those people sit on street corners begging for money. I can’t even imagine what that would be like and feel such strong compassion for them each day. Yet, there are others asking for money that are using said compassion to their advantage.

Take for example, the famous NYC photo of a cop giving a barefoot "homeless" man a pair of shoes. The officer did it out of the kindness of his heart, and yet, the barefoot man wasn’t in actual need of shoes. Multiple news sources told a different story, of a man with an apartment, 30 pairs of shoes, and counting wads of cash on the public transit system. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told CBS that he thought the officer might have been hustled, saying “That’s life in New York in terms of people who try to scam us. We know that that happens.” Kelly then stated that the officer did it out of the goodness of his heart, and this is true. But even having a full time job in this city, trying to cover yourself – with bills piling up – is pretty hard. And while we are not supposed to judge one another and decide who deserves money and who doesn’t – you have to be smart about it.

Honestly, it’s not just this instance in NYC that bothers me. It’s called entitlement – and it just plain sucks. People who are just taking advantage of people and systems in place. Individuals asking for money – only for it to be used on frivolous expenses. People on food stamps coming through my grocery line to use the money on steaks, pizza, and candy (this happened more often than not, honestly). One family trying to get double the amount of Christmas presents during a toy drive. So many stories. And yet, there are people who are in actual need of the public’s generosity, and these others make it hard to want to give at all.

No, I haven’t become a scrooge. And I still give to certain charities and organizations that are deserving of money. Every once and awhile, a person on the street will tug at my heart strings and I will open my pocketbook. It’s just the idea of giving now leaves me with somewhat of a bad taste in my mouth. It’s unfortunate, with all the articles I have written in the past – on my soapbox, telling everyone to give, give, give!

I still believe that for the most part people are good. And I still believe that people should give when they can; just be smart about it. When posing this question on Facebook, someone said something along the lines that God doesn't ask us to pass judgement, and we are just supposed to give when someone asks. My response? Yes, I can't be judgmental when passing by beggars on the street. There isn't a bubble cloud above each person explaining their situation. Their homemade signs of "out of work" or "trying to get a bus home" could be completely true. And rather than judge, the best way to help out those in need is to give to organizations that can directly impact them. And if you are still going to give to individual, give it to someone who needs it most ... but is expecting it least.


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