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“They don’t like me going in there”

March 19, 2011

mr anderson

“Buy any 10 participating Gatorade 32-oz. bottles at 10 for $10 club price get 5 more FREE” the coupon read.
I had just exited the grocery store and noticed Gatorade on sale, then remembered my coupon in the glove-box. I like to keep Gatorade in my car to give homeless people I encounter. When I first moved to Seattle, I generally lowered my eyes and ignored homeless people holding signs. Then my parents from out-of-state visited me and, as outsiders, made me aware of this population. In Bangladesh, I rarely gave beggars money, opting instead to buy them a snack or distribute packages of crackers. I decided in Seattle I would distribute Gatorade.
I returned to the store to purchase the on-sale Gatorade and a couple other items for which I had coupons, but decided I was too tired to extend the effort of collecting groceries and standing in line again.

As I left the store, a middle-aged man and an elderly woman sitting next to the door stopped me.
“Could you spare some change for food?” the woman asked.
“What kind of food do you want?” I asked.
“Oh, anything. A sandwich and a soda.”
“How about Gatorade?”
“That would be good,” the woman said rising.
“Oh, do you want to come in and show me what you would like?”
“I had better not,” she said, sitting again. “They don’t like me going in there.”

Inside I grabbed two 32-oz bottles of Gatorade and selected 2 sandwiches from the cold meat section for $2.99 each. Then I remembered as a child my dad spoke of how construction workers could save more of their earnings had they bought a loaf of bread and sandwich meat or peanut butter rather than purchasing daily meals from a gas station. I returned the sandwiches and decided to stretch the $6. I picked up two packages of sliced meat, a loaf of bread, a can of Peter Pan peanut butter, and Welches grape squeeze jelly. Considering they may lack a knife, I searched unsuccessfully for a squeeze version of peanut butter then scanned the deli, bakery, and Starbucks for a plastic utensil, but found none.

As I waited to checkout, the words “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” rang through my head. From my graduate education, I have learned to intellectually criticize efforts like the one I was making. I could easily dismiss such acts as stemming from a Messiah-complex or a need to feel needed. I could tell myself that there are superior methods for tackling this social problem in a more systemic fashion. Yet I still have trouble refusing a hungry person food. Jesus taught that feeding a hungry person is like nourishing Him. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink (Matthew 25:35a).

When I handed the groceries to the man and woman, they thanked me profusely.

“I’m sorry I don’t have a utensil for the peanut butter,”

“Don’t worry about it.”

I found a packaged plastic fork in my car and offered it.

“You can use the handle as a knife,” I suggested.

“Thank you.” They laughed with me at the innovation.

I know people who are doing wonderful work among the homeless, tackling the root causes of their situation and helping them to find housing, work, and communities. Perhaps someday I will contribute more to such efforts. Yet whenever I encounter homeless people during my daily routines, the question I ask myself is, “Will I show this person a tiny bit of dignity by looking into their eyes as a human being and offering them something to eat or drink? Will I treat this person as Christ Himself, or will I overlook them in my busyness to bring about large-scale social change?”

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One Comment
  1. Galaxian permalink

    Regarding fish dole vs. fish pedagogy: sound thinking.

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