Immediate charity: to give, or not

know the face of your benefactor

a-group-of-opened-cans-of-food-containing-fruits-vegetables-and-legumesOne of the ongoing challenges some of us have is how to do immediate charity. You know, those moments that the person making the request is right there, and referring them elsewhere feels inadequate. Here are two recent examples.

I was walking near the Subway/Dunkin/Chinese restaurant on Madison Avenue in Albany. A woman makes a practically inaudible request for money for food. I’d rather buy her food, so we entered the establishment. She ordered a foot-long Subway sandwich, which was fine. I sat at a nearby table.

At some point, she turned around and asked the man standing behind her if she could also get a bottle of soda. The guy, who was white and about 20 years younger than I, didn’t know what to say. I stood up, waved at her, and said getting the soda was fine. Hint when you’re getting food from a stranger; know the face of your benefactor.

She was otherwise very strategic, though. She got double meat, quite possibly double everything, because the bill was $14 including the Coke. That went pretty well.

My family was driving out of town when we see a car pulled over on Everett Road, right before the entrance to Interstate 90. My wife pulls over, and I lower the passenger side window. The guy comes out, says he needs money, and starts putting a massive ring, and a variety of gold-colored jewelry on the dashboard in front of me.

I assured him, as I quickly handed the items back, that we didn’t want his stuff. If he wanted, we could go to a nearby gas station and get his gas tank filled up. No, he wanted money. I said, “Sorry,” rolled up the window, and my wife drove off.

As we discussed this, we realized it was his invasion of our space that weirded us out. His hand was INSIDE the car. I might have pulled out my wallet and given a $20, but his hand was INSIDE the car, where my wife and daughter sat.

Someone locally who I know a bit wrote this recently: “Our church puts together bags that contain articles (shampoo, crackers, socks.etc.) to give to the homeless and we carry a couple in our car and give them to people we see who might need them.

“Yesterday, I gave one to a man standing in the Wal-Mart parking lot and a car behind me gave him a sack of food from McDonald’s. Coming back around the parking lot to get onto the exit, I saw the man again and he looked so content and happy eating a hamburger and wearing new socks, sitting in the sun.”

One does what one can when one can.

Mark Evanier uses a coupon.

Helping Those Who Ask For Money

One of the factors about giving out money isn’t whether it’s a legit request; if they’re lying, it’s on them, not me.

Periodically, but especially in November and December, I contemplate my personal policy with regards to those who come up to me and ask me for money. Some folks, including a former pastor of mine, are adamant that one ought not to; there are registered charities for that purpose. I’ve not been comfortable with that absolutist position, though, and I take it on a case-by-case basis.

There was a day this fall, though, where my instincts were just…off. Something had happened at work earlier in the day that frustrated me. When I got off the bus downtown, a guy asked me for money to buy some food. As it turned out, we were right in front of a Subway sub shop. My first instinct was to say, “Hey, why don’t we go in here, and I’ll buy you a sub?” I had the time (it was a Thursday and choir was in an hour) and the means (a $5 sub wouldn’t break me). Moreover, I wouldn’t have to worry that the money was going to be used for another (“inappropriate”) purpose, and, by going into a well-lit restaurant, I would feel relatively safe and secure. But my answer was “no”; and it was as though I was watching myself say that, because it surely couldn’t have been me. It bothered me for DAYS, because my grumpiness had robbed me of the opportunity to do good.

It didn’t help that the lectionary reading a few weeks later was Matthew 25, all that good stuff about seeing the hungry and feeding them.

That wasn’t the only thing that went wrong that day. After that incident, I then went to the library and gave someone what turned out to be bad advice about whether he had time to get a coffee before his computer time came up; I didn’t realize that the computer clocks were 10 minutes fast, and he missed his turn and had to rejoin the queue, so I felt bad about giving such lousy advice. I was so distraught that I didn’t even end up going to choir, but rather ended up calling a few of my friends, none of whom were home.

One of the factors about giving out money isn’t whether it’s a legit request; if they’re lying, it’s on them, not me. It IS about security, though, and I am loath to pull out my wallet in front of strangers, especially at night. I’ve recently started carrying dollar coins – another good use for them – which I can dig out of my pocket, which is also easier.

Do any of you struggle with this?

Foolishness over Our Food Supply

The results show that the dominant causes of food price increases are investor speculation and ethanol conversion.


There’s an appeal for CARE’s 2011 World Hunger Campaign going on – tax-deductible at least in the US. And I find it absurd.

Not that they are making the appeal, but that they HAVE to. How is it that there is a food crisis?

Part of it is elucidated in a study by the New England Complex Systems Institute entitled The Food Crises: A quantitative model of food prices including speculators and ethanol conversion [PDF].

From the abstract:
Recent increases in basic food prices are severely impacting vulnerable populations worldwide. Proposed causes such as shortages of grain due to adverse weather, increasing meat consumption in China and India, conversion of corn to ethanol in the US, and investor speculation on commodity markets lead to widely differing implications for policy. A lack of clarity about which factors are responsible reinforces policy inaction. Here, for the first time, we construct a dynamic model that quantitatively agrees with food prices. The results show that the dominant causes of price increases are investor speculation and ethanol conversion. Models that just treat supply and demand are not consistent with the actual price dynamics. The two sharp peaks in 2007/2008 and 2010/2011 are specifically due to investor speculation, while an underlying upward trend is due to increasing demand from ethanol conversion.

In other words, greed, and insanity.

Read also The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2010: Addressing Food Insecurity in Protracted Crises [PDF] from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization: “FAO estimates that a total of 925 million people are undernourished in 2010 compared with 1.023 billion in 2009. Most of the decrease was in Asia, with 80 million fewer hungry, but progress was also made in sub-Saharan Africa, where 12 million fewer people are going hungry. However, the number of hungry people is higher in 2010 than before the food and economic crises of 2008–09.”

There are also, increasingly, water shortages. Frankly, those TV ads such as One Million New American Jobs: The Benefits of Increased Access to Domestic Oil & Gas, touting the Canadian tar sands oil that would have been too dirty for the US government to buy, under legislation signed by George W. Bush, make me even more nervous. Allegedly cheaper oil, but at what cost to the water supply?

As Blog Action notes:
“Food is something that we all share in common but is distinct to each of our cultures. The way we produce, distribute and consume food is crucial to our shared future, and the unhealthy imbalance of food scarcity in developing world and food over-abundance in the developed world is unsustainable for us all.”

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