By Dawn Brandvold-Gray
We’ve all seen them: the panhandler on the busy corner holding a sign imploring us for money.
Most of us avoid eye contact, hope the light changes quickly, and drive past. We can justify our inaction by telling ourselves that the handout would go to drugs or alcohol. We can make donations to organizations who deal with those in need in more efficient ways. Or we can roll down the window and hand over a buck or two.
I’m no Mother Teresa, but this year I made a promise that every time I took Salt Lake City’s 4th South exit I would have some ones at the ready to give to the sign holder on the corner. I hold no delusions. I know that $2 from me is not going to change a life. I also know that my donation doesn’t make me any more Christian than the person in the next passing car. In fact, like most charity, it is more for my sake than for the recipient’s.
I had found myself unable to recognize the simple delights, the daily graces and tender mercies that enrich my existence. To this end I committed to be more generous, not just in corporate donations to the United Way (a fine organization), but to make a connection with another human, out of my comfort zone, one-to-one, look-them-in-the-eye connection.
This simple action caused me to expand my thinking. We are all on this planet together. If I can look one less fortunate person in the eye to let them know that I see them, maybe it is just a ripple in an ocean, but everyone needs to be seen. It’s what keeps us going when life seems darkest.
Many of us don’t have safety nets of family, friends, or mental health. The person on the corner is all of us, stripped down to our most vulnerable and needy. I have been blessed and I couldn’t drive past any longer. Mormon scripture says it best. To paraphrase Mosiah 4, aren’t we all “beggars before God.”
By Mark Gray
I am not opposed to my wife’s approach to panhandling. The $2 offering at the street corner doesn’t impact my financial picture or change my lifestyle. Also, I don’t care how the panhandler spends the money; if a beer gives him or her as much comfort as a sandwich, who am I to judge? It is not my business to detect the worthiness of the person; when I see a homeless person, I immediately think for the grace of God, go I.
However, I would not hand over money to those begging on the street corner. The homeless problem is complex and needs to be solved by a society, not individuals forking over a dollar here and a dollar there.
We can get more “bang for our buck” by making a donation to the Utah Food Bank, The Road Home, or the Salvation Army. The bell-ringers at Christmas or the food donation bins at businesses offer an easy opportunity for use to make a holiday contribution, but we should think of donations during the rest of the year as well.
We should not let street corner panhandling become a “mini-industry” for a segment of the population. Unlike my wife, I would rather trust my money to the professionals who can direct the money wisely in helping the largest number of people.
That’s not to say I don’t have sympathy for the “homeless vet” or the “father of three, anything will help” man on the corner. I just feel there is a more effective approach.