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No room at the inn ... no food at the burger joint

A plug for Naomi Kritzer's article, "Giving to the Poor" in the current issue, especially in this pre-Christmas season when many of us are planning our charitable giving.

I was reminded of the time about five Christmases ago when I was in a fast-food joint with my son, then 6. We were waiting for our order at the counter when we heard a man on the drive-thru speaker explain that he and his wife were homeless, they had kids in the car, and could they get a handout.

The wait staff all laughed derisively, and so did most of the people in the restaurant. The car with the man and family pulled out of the parking lot, a rattle-trap stationwagon laden with clothing and furniture.

My son wanted to know what would happen to the hungry family. I said I imagined the parents were resourceful and would stop at the police station to ask where they could get help, like at the Salvation Army or something.

"They're just like Mary and Joseph looking for a room at the inn," he said.

I have always regretted I did not think fast enough that day to do the obvious: Ask the manager if he could provide the drive-thru workers with directions to the local food pantry or Salvation Army. If he demurred, I could have pointed out that he could make some public relations hay out of it. Call the local paper, for instance, with a little story about how many people had been directed to help that Christmas season. Doh!

While I agree with Kritzer that charities--the Salvation Army, local parish or food pantry--can provide more comprehensive help, we are sometimes confronted with the dilemma of the Hungry Family, someone who is asking for help right now.

In talking with friends about what they do, I've discovered people can be both kind and resourceful. Some friends keep fast-food or coffee coupons in their purses. Others keep a few extra bus tokens in their bag. Some save phone cards that have just a few minutes left on them to hand out with the number of a local shelter. A man in New York makes extra cheese sandwiches and gives them to anyone who asks for food money on his way to work.

What ideas do you have that work? And thanks to Ms. Kritzer for a great piece!



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I prefer the ideas you mention near the end of your post. I'm reluctant to simply give money to someone asking for a handout. With enough money, the poor soul can walk to the nearest liquor store to buy a cheap bottle of rot-gut.

I prefer not to give money, either, but Kritzer's piece points out that perhaps we all have our own version of "rot gut" we'll indulge ourselves in, even if we're not begging for it, if left to our own devices.Her article hints at a certain moral judgementalism with which we approach the poor, perhaps in order not to have to feel the full force of pity and guilt.It's a lot easier to wave them off as scam artists (like the people in the burger joint) or addicts.

Peter Maurin urged that every Christian home should have a Christ room. Easy for him to say; he was homeless. I give when asked, usually. And whenever feasible, if someone specifies why he or she wants money -- say, for a cup of coffee -- I try to provide the thing rather than the money for it. Begging is hard work, I'd guess. So, I don't begrudge the folks that try to put one over on me. I might want a little drink to, if I were on the streets.

Last I knew, giving money to a drunkard is called 'enabling.' If in doubt as to the person's intent, ask and follow up, but I would not give money.

We all know that inn is just a small place but they must also develop these as part of the most important things to do in the place. You can go and observe and even beside them which they have provided everything even in their small space. You have to think of your costumers also.

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