The Cardboard Sign

“POOR FAMILY,

NEEDS HELP.”

You see this cardboard sign being held by a woman on the corner of a highway and a crossing to a busy shopping area.

What do you do?

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Me?

I did nothing.  For many reasons.  There was no way to stop and talk to her.  There was no where to pull over.  I didn’t have time to react as we drove quickly by and I just caught the sign’s words as we drove by.     She was not in a location that was convenient for anyone to stop and actually offer her assistance.  I’m not sure of her reasoning for her location.  I don’t offer this as an excuse…it just seemed odd.  When I first glanced at her I thought she was one of those sign holders for “GOLD PURCHASED HERE” or one of the “BUSINESS CLOSEOUT” sign holders.   As we went by I saw her handmade sign too late.

What could I have done?

I could have asked the driver to drive back and try to find a way to get to her.   I know of many many resources in our community for her and her family.  I happen to live in a community that is very proactive in helping those who need food, shelter, clothing.  This world is full of very good people willing to assist.   I could have told her where to go and get help.  In addition to that kind of assistance there is also a resource in our community that offers help in finding jobs, doing resume’s, prepping people for interviews, even getting appropriate clothes for interviews.   I could have told her how to get food from pantries, free meals (every day in our community).

I could have given her money.  I am relatively generous with what I have.  Whether it is one dollar or twenty.  If I have it and see someone in need, I have given before and will give again.   But even at that I would have literally had to throw it at her for her to get it.  Unless we were stopped at a light and we were stopped relative close to her.

I could have averted my eyes.  But I didn’t.  I wanted to know what her sign said.  Now it bothers me.

I could have gone to a grocery store, purchased a gift card, and taken a chance she would be there when I got back.

I didn’t do any of the things I could have done.  I believe in helping one another.   I have been helped in my life time.   I have helped in my life time.  We do live in a give and take world.  I always felt better giving than I did receiving (though this always feels like the blessing it is).

Did I fail her.  Or did I fail in who I want to be.

For some reason, I didn’t do anything.   Now I wonder if it was something about her.

Or something about me.

45 thoughts on “The Cardboard Sign

    • Not everyone has access to Internet and/or phones. Especially when one becomes initially homeless. My family and I were blessed in the fact that I have extensive knowledge of things like Internet, Document knowledge to create resumes and such and my personal pride would never allow me to hold my hand out regardless of the fact we had a small child. Not everyone is the same; l think we tend to justify or mould our point of views towards homelessness based on who we’ve met, where we economically as well as spiritually.

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  1. I make no hesitation to help someone who actually needs it, but there are those who make me hesitate or not want to help. The unfortunate thing here, and probably everywhere else, are those who beg for money who really do not need it. I have given money/change to those who have asked, but the ones that make me hesitate are the ones I see on the side of the road, wearing brand new sport coats, new sneakers etc. My father and I have watched one guy in a wheel chair with a cardboard sign begging for money on the side of an on-ramp literally stand up, crossover to the other side of the on-ramp, pick up a coffee can, fish out a huge wad of money, and add whatever he had just received at the moment. We have seen people work in teams as well.

    When I went to Wal-Mart one time I had a girl who came up to me asking to help her with her sick kid. I go back two days later and the same girl comes up to me with a completely different story.

    Because of people like this it makes it hard for me to distinguish those who actually need the money and those who are out there because it is an easy way for them to make a quick buck. One newspaper wrote an article about how you can make money by being “a professional accident victim” or “professional beggar”, as humorous the article was there was also a bit of truth to it.

    On the flip-side; one time at a gas station years ago, I was watching some guy chasing around a girl in his fancy car, shouting epithets and harassing her, when she came over to me after I had paid for my gas, she pleaded/asked if I would drive her back to where she was staying, and that she would pay. She said she had met the guy who was chasing her around at a casino with a friend, and that he was supposed to be taking her to a party, but then suddenly had different intentions. I wasn’t sure whether or not her story was real or if she was bullshitting me, but I didn’t want it on my conscience that someone that I could’ve helped might end up dead by any circumstance either by the next day or few days later. So i drove the girl to where she asked, when we got to where she had indicated she was staying she started fishing in her purse for the money, when I saw the complete shithole she was staying at I told her to keep the money. She hugged me, got out of my vehicle, and proceeded up the stairs to where she was staying.

    In all honesty, and with what I have seen after living in this city for almost sixteen years, I would rather give my money to a hooker who probably needs it more than the dickhead with expensive sportswear begging for money, and she is probably staying in some shithole hotel/motel, trying to provide for whatever child/children she may have, and is probably doing what she does because of whatever shitty circumstance has put her there.

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    • I think it was the cynic in me that didn’t allow me to go back. I have seen the scams, been working to protect people from scams (my job), and know that people take advantage of others. If I give, I give without expecting anything in return. And the only problem I have about giving and it being a scam? Is that the next person I could have helped and who is truly in need and desperate-I may have nothing left to give. I have seen good and kind people be scammed out of thousands, to the point of losing their savings, their retirement, their security. Because someone was able to play on their kindness and sympathies. I don’t think this woman, had I been able to stop, was going to have that opportunity with me. But I can’t help but wonder….being scammed does affect/effect our ability (and willingness?) to help without judgment. This makes me sad. Like you, I want to help those who need help. If I can, I do.

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  2. I practice listening to the voice of love (still small voice or voice of the Holy Spirit) within me. This voice guides each of us during our day. When we ask for help, it’s there and even when we don’t ask, the voice of love is there guiding each of us. About three or four years ago a teenager pushed my cart filled with groceries to my car. As we were talking, he was sharing with me that he hadn’t had a break yet, he was hungry and didn’t have any money on him and if I remember correctly he was waiting for his parent to bring him money. I heard the small voice within to give him some money. I was in the process of becoming aware of my still small voice at that time. This voice doesn’t speak loud like my other voice of fear, judgments, guilt and punishment. I didn’t give the money and on my way home I realized what had happened. Even though I wasn’t obedient, I still received a gift. I saw and witnessed what this still small voice looks like and I was grateful. I also felt terrible when I thought about how I didn’t give the teenager some money because I had money in my wallet and the voice of love knew this or it wouldn’t have guided me to do so, although feeling terrible came from my loud voice of guilt and wanting to punish myself, which doesn’t support my learning and growing as I’m becoming a better being. This experience helped me in more ways than one!

    Perhaps the lady chose that spot because she had seen other people standing there, who knows. What I’m learning to do, am I being guided from the voice of love to help a person regardless what they look like, where they are and without judgment toward them. Thank you for sharing your story. Pam

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    • Thank you Pam. I do want to listen to that voice. And the giving without judgment is the part I probably need to work on. Just reflecting on it, and before writing this I wondered what it all meant to me. I didn’t really feel “guilty” for not helping. Maybe a little. I really felt more…reflective. I think I was relieved that I didn’t get stopped there. Because I wasn’t sure (in reflecting) of what I would do. It’s the not knowing that causes me to wonder. I think if anything, that voice is making me look at how I judge others, and ask my self why do I help others, when I choose to do so, and why don’t I, when I don’t.

      And maybe….I reflect too much. The opportunity was not really there. More like the awareness that the problem is out there. People need help. Whether I’m paying attention or not.

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  3. Been there, too Colleen, and I know how it feels. I wouldn’t call it being something wrong with anybody, you, her or me. I agree with FeelingJoy about listening to the Holy Spirit (that Voice) to know when to help.

    In my mind, anyone deserves to be helped. I also understand where The Heretic is coming from, goodness we have syndicates that operate beggar gangs here using the blind and handicapped to beg for money on the streets. But I remember a pastor-friend telling me something about this when it came out in a discussion amongst friends one day. He said, “It’s not for me to choose who to help, I help who I can. What that person does with the help I give is beyond my control. I just help who I can.”

    And those are what I try to remember whenever someone asks for help from me. I’m not sure it will clarify anything but I wanted you to know I understand and I still think you’re a swell person even if you didn’t help that lady.

    Have a blessed day. 🙂

    Warmest regards,
    Mary

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    • Thank you Mary. I like the very first point you make, that there wasn’t anything wrong with any of us. And your pastor’s point about just helping who he can. And I guess one step further, my act of kindness is no less an act of kindness even if the person is taking advantage of others. Thank you for understanding. 🙂

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  4. You did what you did. Nothing wrong with that, unless of course you judge it to be wrong. And, if you do judge it to be wrong, why? I don’t see it as wrong. One day we give, next day we don’t, one minute we’re selfish, next minute not. And, I might add, well I’m going to, lol, I don’t like to “should” all over myself or my friends/family. You’re a good egg, kind hearted, decent, ethical, loving, lots of good things, but then don’t forget those paradoxes you brilliantly wrote about that I reblogged, lol. Hugs.

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    • Paulette, thank you! 🙂 I am a paradox!

      I was reflecting on this whole thing and I am appreciating everyone’s feedback. I wasn’t really thinking it was wrong, I’m not sure what I was thinking. It was just stuck in my head.

      I love your line: ” One day we give, next day we don’t, one minute we’re selfish, next minute not.” Couldn’t we write books (blogs!) about that. 🙂

      Thank you so much.
      Hugs returned!

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      • I think the best thing about the situation was the fact that you CARED and STILL CARE. Sometimes all you can do is ask God to take care of them and trust that they will be.

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              • It’s the people who’ve been there, done that, who understand the most. It’s not a lack of sensitivity very often but a lack of knowledge or personal experience. I am glad you’re out; I’m thankful I’m (we’re) out. We don’t have any family to speak of, only relatives who, for the most part, are so out of touch with us that most of them have never even SEEN our child who’s now 4 years old. It’s alright, no big deal, but it is what it is, you know? I’m glad you have family- it’s very lonely at times without, although one learns to make do.

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  5. I’ve also had those odd moments, when you look back on a situation like this and wonder if you should have done something different. I’ve learned since, though Colleen, that what we do, we are impulsed to do. Impulsed by something bigger than ourselves. We can’t always know if a woman like this is a downright crook, or in genuine need, and when we give, we have to be sure it is the ‘little voice’ as someone commented above, or some other insidious agenda (e.g. getting a ticket into heaven). When you feel impulsed to give, give. When you don’t feel it, don’t give. And trust that feeling. Even if you find you’ve given to a downright crook! God knows best, and even crooks need feeding. And you only hear God as an inner nudge. So you did right by not doing anything. You just didn’t understand that at the time.

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    • Yaz, I think after writing this out, and reading everyone’s comments… that you are right. I didn’t understand it. There’s nothing I can do different. And I think it is something that I need to accept. If I want to give I will. If I don’t, I won’t, and I don’t need to feel guilty about it. And you are right, I didn’t understand it at the time. Not even when I wrote it out. But the feedback has been great. 🙂

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  6. It’s a tricky thing … some help … some I don’t. And I can’t explain why I do that … it’s something about the persons. I know that in Sweden nobody has beg, but some don’t what to end up in the system … because in Sweden they keep an eye on you … big brother is watching all the time. Because everything is based on our date of birth. I don’t mind because I have nothing to hide. But some people has – and in a way I can understand why.
    Colleen, we can’t feel guilty for things we didn’t do … I have my charities (3) that I stick with, even if I would love to give to … so many, but we can’t change the life for everybody – but we can change for some.

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    • You’re right Viveka. I can’t make a difference for all, but if I can help one I will. Thank you for the thoughts on this. It didn’t make me feel bad as much as it made me reflect.

      Big Brother in Sweden huh? Sometimes it feels like that here. 🙂

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      • Yes, we have … but it’s not bothering us as such .. but they know everything about us .. the taxman – hospitals – schools, defends, banks … everything is based on our National Insurance Number – based on our date of birth.
        It’s great because you don’t have to remember all your account any bank or company .. they base all on our date of birth. I can collect my medicine where ever in the country .. we all have to have a personal id-card with photo – can be passport or driving licence too.
        Our life is very well organized – a German TV-program once said that only time a Swede has to put an afford in – is when we are born.

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  7. I’ve been in similar situations and it weighs on me as well, wondering if I (accidentally?) did the wrong thing. The best any of us can do it learn from our experiences and allow that to guide us in the future.

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  8. I will be honest. I am cold. Maybe it was my upbringing. But partially, I am cold because I do not wish to contemplate afterwards as you do… And a quandary: is it really better to reward begging?

    Signed,

    Coldhearted

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    • Koji I don’t think you are cold at all. You expend your energies and kindnesses in so many ways, to so many different people. You have many people depending on you. And obviously they count on you for many things. I only contemplated this because I don’t know what I would have done if there had been more of a chance to respond, or choose to not respond. That chance wasn’t really presented. And I think I was relieved about it, which made me wonder about it….. it’s how my head works. 🙂

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  9. I’ve been in this exact same dilemma before. Logistically speaking, it seemed impossible to offer this woman assistance. But, if this incident continues to eat at you, I would keep my eyes open for the next opportunity. Because you know there will be a next time. For now, a simple prayer for her well being may have to be enough.

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    • I think I will be that much more aware. But thanks to the feedback from all of you, I think I do recognize that there are times I can help, and times I can’t. And it’s okay “if I can’t” Thank you Anka.

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  10. Colleen, this is something I really struggle with. I hate to see people suffering in anyway. However I have been burnt too many times to mention and have witnessed so many people who are “suffering” that do not appreciate the help they have received. I wish I had more insight into why people do the things they do so I could understand this better.

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    • I see this every day. People who try to work the system so they don’t have to work. People who prey off of others so they don’t have to work. It is difficult to keep one’s charitable side alive sometimes. But some of the commenters helped me. It does help to know that our sense of giving and helping isn’t diminished by someone else’s “scam”. It stings. But I know there are truly people needing help. I think there are ways we can give, and know the sting won’t happen. But I don’t think we will totally be free of these kinds of scammers.

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  11. Wow Colleen, this has brought a lot of responses – Michael’s is huge.

    I would be set thinking, thinking, thinking ages like you did. I don’t think it was something about you – or about her, or, I don’t know.

    I think it would be excrutiatingly humiliating to beg. I wonder does anyone do it easily. Begging…

    In a simple fact, if she was in a difficult location, then so it was – simply, you couldn’t have done anything. She surely must know where to get help though…

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    • Oh to stand with one’s hand out, head hanging, asking for charity. I can’t imagine how difficult that is. Sadly, some people have actually made this a livelihood.

      I could not do it. I don’t think. Though when I was going through rough times, I guess I did do my own version of “stinking my hand out”. I know I was totally humiliated.

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