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!