Posts Tagged ‘charity’

Care Package

Hand out or hand up?

He could be lying. That’s the thing: we just don’t know.

In the two and a half weeks we’ve been driving to and from a city 150 miles from where we live, we’ve seen him less than half a dozen times. A small, worn man on the shoulder of the highway ramp holding a sign that says “Homeless Vet. Anything will help.”

There are four ramps at the intersection where we see him: two eastbound, two westbound, two exit, two entrance. He rotates among all of them to better his odds, I suppose, and because there’s a lot of construction in that area.

I’d guess him in his 60’s, maybe older, his beard is white and I can’t see his hair because he wears a cap with a hood pulled up over it. He’s hunkered down on the gravel, his gear on his back, his sign out in front, his gaze stoic.

“What’s the story on the homeless vet?” I ask at the gas station where we stop every day.

All of the regulars acknowledge they’ve seen him but nobody knows anything because none of them have stopped to ask him.

“Do you think he’s really a veteran?” the clerk asks me.

It bothers me that we don’t believe him. I’ve heard the stories same as you have about unscrupulous grifters conning sympathetic do-gooders out of their hard-earned money. My husband and I discuss it during our daily trip.

What kind of proof would make a person believe him? His military service records? An eviction notice? An empty wallet with a faded picture of him in uniform? Who would really ask him for it?

Is he making a statement? He doesn’t wave the sign or shout anything or directly approach any vehicle. He stays away from the traffic lights (a good idea because the intersection is always busy) and he must not be bothering anyone because even law enforcement drives right past him.

Why would he do it if he didn’t actually need help? It’s getting colder in South Dakota and on several recent days, the winds have been gusting over 50 miles an hour. He’s out in the open, on the side of the road. Aside from the weather, he could get run over or have things thrown at him or even be dragged into a vehicle and robbed of what little he has. Why take the risk of being out there if he didn’t have to?

On today’s drive, we made a decision. If he was on our ramp today, we’d stop next to him, thank him for his service to his country, and give him something.

We saw him but not on our side. The construction crews were grading the shoulder by the overpass and he was across the intersection on the eastbound entrance ramp, the opposite direction of where we were headed.

We have four more trips to make and if he keeps his usual rotation, he’ll be on our ramp one more time.

Yeah, he could be lying. And here’s the thing: how much does it matter?

Would you stop and give him something? Or look the other way and keep going?

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GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAOn a single sheet of white paper was typed the following:

“In the spirit of Christmas, please use this small gift to help someone LOCAL and in need. With the influence you have, encourage others to do the same.”

Tucked inside the unsigned note was a $25 money order made out to me. The accompanying envelope had no return address and was postmarked from a city about 200 miles from where I live. It was in my mailbox at the radio station recently when I went in to work.

Others at the station received the same package, as did random residents of our community. No one seemed to know who our mysterious benefactor was or why he or she was making this simple request.

I’ve always made donations to causes and people I care strongly about. Even in the days when money was so tight we could barely afford groceries or to keep the heat on, I donated what I could. There is always someone who is worse off than I am and if I can help them in any small way, it makes me feel better as a person to do it.

I cashed the money order and matched it, giving the donation to the Missouri Shores Domestic Violence Center. Domestic violence is an issue that has touched me personally and 25 years ago, someone helped me at a time when I desperately needed it. I have never forgotten that and I hope my donation will provide the same help for someone else.

I don’t have a money order for you but I do have a request: sometime this holiday season, please make a small gift to someone local and in need, wherever you are. If a monetary gift isn’t possible (and sometimes it just isn’t), give of yourself. A shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, a hand to steady, a word to comfort. We never know how wide our circle of influence can be or who it encompasses.

To the unknown Santa who prompted this post, thank you for what you’re doing. And thank you for including me.

If you received an unexpected $25 to donate to whoever you wanted to, where would you send it?