No good answer

By Mir
June 3, 2011

(Before I start this, I want to say thank you for all of the kind and thoughtful comments on my last post. In case I haven’t mentioned it lately, I just love you. Truly.)

My embarrassing confession for today: I don’t do give back as much as I think I should. As much as I could, if I prioritized it better, anyway. I’m pretty good about giving money, but I’m not as good about giving time. And I can justify that with all sorts of things; I work long hours, and my kids need me, and money does more than time anyway, and blah blah blah. Excuses. I live a life of relative privilege, and I believe that means as a citizen of the world I have an obligation to—in some small way—help those who don’t.

You can thank Suebob for getting me thinking about this more, by the way. She’s highlighting 50 worthy charities as she heads towards her 50th birthday, which is exactly the sort of awesome thing you’d expect from her.

Anyway. That is preface to this: Yesterday afternoon it became clear that we had nothing in the house to eat for dinner. My regular schedule of grocery shopping and meal-planning had been thrown off by our camping trip and the long weekend, and unless everyone wanted dry Grape-Nuts for dinner (ewwwww), a trip to the store was in order. I left my family in the pool and drove off in search of sustenance.

My car’s thermometer said it was 98 degrees. (But don’t worry, because thanks to the humidity here in Georgia, it didn’t feel more than about 105 or so.) I parked at my local grocery store and headed in. And there was a homeless man sitting next to the door, asking folks on their way out of the store if they could spare a few dollars. I was on my way in and he didn’t say anything to me.

Another confession: In general my strategy with panhandlers is to pretend I don’t see them. I just keep walking, steer the kids onward (if they’re with me), and go wherever I’m going. Homeless people are a fixture in the downtown area, here, but this was the first time I’d seen someone on our side of town, and maybe that’s part of why I really looked at him. It was really hot yesterday; he just looked miserable.

I headed to the pharmacy to pick up some prescriptions. And then I looped back past the door on my way to shop for food, and saw the man was still sitting there. I could buy him some food, right? Get a loaf of bread, some peanut butter? But then I’d have to get something to spread the peanut butter with… and maybe he hates peanut butter…. I stood there, in the air conditioning, trying to figure out what to do. Then I remembered that they make sandwiches at the deli.

I went back outside. “Hi,” I said. He looked up at me in surprise. “I’d like to buy you a sandwich. What kind would you like?”

“Oh! That’s very kind of you. I’d like… I’d like… can I come in and pick it out?”

“Sure, come on.” He grabbed his backpack and we walked inside and headed back to the deli. It became clear as he hemmed and hawed over the options that he was dealing with some sort of mental illness; he mumbled to himself and twitched and the deli guys exchanged looks as he tried to settle on a mustard. Eventually he had his sandwich and chips and a drink, and we went up front to pay. I got my change and he said thanks, and I said no problem, please enjoy it.

He went back outside. I headed back over to produce to start my shopping.

I can’t tell you why, on this particular day, I decided to do that. Nor do I think I somehow did something awesome. The reality is that I could afford the money to buy the guy a meal and I wasn’t in a hurry, so I did. I hope it helped him. But one deli combo is hardly going to change his life. I know this.

Anyway, I was about six aisles down in my shopping when the store manager came up to me and began… apologizing. Profusely. “Ma’am, I am so sorry if that gentleman was harassing you. We have a no loitering policy here, and he shouldn’t have been there. He shouldn’t have spoken to you, and I am terribly sorry.”

I blinked at him. I tried to process what he was saying. Finally I managed, “He didn’t say anything to me. He certainly didn’t harass me.”

“Well,” he continued, “we have rules about that sort of thing. And we don’t want our shoppers made uncomfortable. I am really just very sorry.”

I found myself feeling… angry. Really angry. There’s some guy sitting outside a GROCERY STORE—where they routinely throw away hundreds of pounds of food every day—in the unbearable heat, hungry and homeless, and this guy was concerned that maybe I was uncomfortable? Because I have a credit card, my comfort matters more?

“I know you have rules,” I said. “I figured someone was going to chase him off, and he looked hungry, so I offered to buy him a sandwich. He didn’t harass me. He was just hungry. But, uh, thank you for your concern.”

He apologized again before scurrying off.

So, the question(s): Was my anger misplaced? Was the manager just doing his job? Is it unreasonable for me to wonder why the store manager didn’t give that guy some food and send him on his way instead of getting his panties in a wad over thinking that perhaps I’d been coerced into a deli run?

I love that store, by the way—I shop there every week, know most of the employees by name, and have always been pleased with their service. But that encounter with the manager just left me feeling… slimy. I hope I’m overreacting. Am I?


  1. Jenn

    I think his comments to you are a pretty sad commentary on some of the rest of the shoppers at that grocery store. He’s obviously gotten complaints before. I’m trying to see the good here, but maybe he was as uncomfortable having to talk to you about it as you were having to hear it.

    Like you I wish I could figure out a way to do more but I fairly regularly buy the homeless man who hangs around outside my Walgreens enough groceries for a few meals. He appreciates it. It makes his life a tiny bit easier and it teaches my kids (I hope) that they are unbelievably fortunate to have landed where they did.

  2. Liza

    Very thought provoking. Store Mgmt’s reaction probably says more about the other shoppers than anything else. :(

  3. Leandra

    Yeahhh, this is a toughie. Someone once said to me, “What if that homeless person was Jesus in disguise” and that has always guided my actions towards panhandlers. People will say “They’re probably just going to spend the money on alcohol or drugs” but my thought is “well, then it’s on them, because I’ve done my part with a good heart and honest intentions.” But before I start sound like I think I’m so goody goody, I’m not going to lie, sometimes those interactions make me really uncomfortable, especially if the panhandlers ARE aggressive.

    The manager’s response probably would have pissed me off, too. There’s a lot that’s wrong with this world and the way we do things and there’s too much waste. But your action was a good thing. And maybe somebody in that grocery store — the manger, or the guys in the deli — thought about what you did yesterday and will make them act differently in the future.

  4. Brigitte

    I guess I could kind of see the manager fearing that the front of his store might become the hottest homeless-person hangout in town if he doesn’t discourage it . . . but I don’t see why he thought you were somehow harrassed into buying a sandwich for the poor guy! I think I’d feel a bit slimy after the manager did that too.

    My husband works for a chip company, and every day they throw out tons of stuff that’s past code (but really still perfectly good for at least a few more months). I guess they USED to donate it to shelters and what-not, until stupid liability issues got in the way (somebody might get a bad expired chip and sue, I guess). It’s a broken system when it’s better to let these people starve than to give them all the food that’s being tossed anyway!

  5. Kyre

    I’m going to avoid answering your question (but I’d have been angry too, especially after you told him the story).

    I am, however, going to tell you something that I do that makes me happy every dang day. I keep a flat of bottled water in my car. I don’t have kids, so I keep it in the back seat where I can easily reach them. Everytime I see a homeless person on a corner, at a store, etc., I grab a bottle and offer it to them with a smile saying ‘I don’t have any cash, but would you like some water?’.

    I’ve never been turned down.

    Okay, once. But she was really high.

    It’s especially rewarding when the person has dog and/or on these very hot days.

    You, by the way, are a rock star.


  6. Lynn in Mass

    I agree that the manager was doing his job and more concerned about the shoppers than a homeless man.

  7. Wendy

    My parents own a small retail business in, let’s say, not the best part of town. Panhandlers are something we deal with quite often – the difference being, however, that most of ours want money to buy booze or drugs or whatnot and if someone actually offered to buy them a sandwich, most would decline. In light of that, we routinely have to tell them to get lost, get out of our parking lot, leave our customers alone, etc. So I am accustomed to being in the position of your store manager, apologizing to customers that they were bothered, etc., so I feel for his side of this. That said, I also understand that there are people who truly need help, who aren’t just looking for money for booze, etc. – it’s just that where I’m at, it’s too difficult to tell the difference…. *sigh*

  8. burghbaby

    The manager may have been doing his job, but I *hate* that it’s his job to make someone who is already invisible even more invisible.

  9. Heathir

    Not too very long ago, on a trip to Goodwill, I got stuck in a long line at a red light and noticed a homeless man with his (obviously disabled) son by the side of the road. It was cold (this was in VT), and the man was doing what he could to keep his son warm.

    I wasn’t in a place where I could easily take them for a meal, but I did have cash for once. When I got stopped at the light a second time, I called the man over and offered it to him. He took it gratefully, and I went on my way.

    Five or ten minutes later, I pulled into the Goodwill parking lot and got out of my car to find I’d been blocked in by a shiny, black BMW. A rather large, well-heeled man came barreling at me, yelling, “Just how stupid are you? Why would you do that? Really, how stupid can you be?”

    I had no idea what he could be talking about. Then, he got to his point, “You know he’s just going to spend it on alcohol. Obviously.”

    I was flabbergasted. This man had followed me for several miles just to yell at me for helping someone out. I wished right then, it had been a larger amount of money.

    For once, I had the right words, “How do you know I wasn’t?”

  10. Brandi

    No. You’re not.

    I have a degree in social work. My final semester was spent doing an internship in a state mental hospital. I’d have been just as angry although I’d have probably said something not nice and gotten into a confrontation :)

  11. amy

    I barely got through the first response and felt that they nailed it; it’s more than likely that many other customers complain to the staff, manager and head office about someone (not necessarily THIS person, but a person in general) hanging around outside the store, and so this is the store policy to ‘deal’ with it. To nip it in the bud, so to speak. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t ASK you first if he was bothering you, and let it go when you would have clarified that he was not, but it’s more than likely about liability issues and covering their ass. It would have been totally different if the man was asking you and following you around wanting money and/or food. THEN I could see the manager apologizing to you profusely.

  12. Brandi

    (Also I hate the “what if they spend it on alcohol?” conversation. If I wanted to go spend my money on alcohol no one would say a word. Yet, if one gives money away and then the person goes to spend what is now THEIR MONEY on alcohol they are lectured/looked down on/etc. I’m sorry, as a human, you’re allowed to make choices for yourself with money that is NOW YOURS.


  13. Rebecca

    Matthew 25: 35-40 “‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ ”


    It doesn’t matter what the manager said or how you felt about what he said. You did a good thing and that’s what’s important.

  14. Renee

    You did a good thing, I will agree. I live in Las Vegas, where there is a large homeless population, and occasionally I will offer help to those I see in need. This week it was a man with a dog. We see him frequently at a nearby intersection. I took him some food for his dog, because agencies don’t provide help for animals. However, at many stores, there are panhandlers of every description. They work the intersections with their signs, sit on the walkways over the Strip and chase you down in parking lots at grocery stores and Wal-Mart and sometimes inside the stores. I’ve been cursed when I have tried to walk away and I have been followed aggressively to force an acknowledgement when trying to ignore them. There are many homeless shelters, food pantries, and services here to help those who are homeless or destitute and frankly, I just want to be left alone to shop in peace. I avoid stores that allow panhandling because i consider it to be harassment. Many panhandlers here are con artists begging for handouts and making a good living doing it, like $500 a week. If it wasnt lucrative, theyd stop doing it. Las Vegas also has a large immigrant population, and they approach you to ask for work, NOT a handout. I’ve got to respect that.

  15. Cheryl

    When I lived in the city and took the train every day, I would stop at a convenience store daily. I would get 2 coffees and 2 bagels and walk towards the train. I never made it on to the train with both coffees and bagels. And I’m not sure I ever gave the same homeless person a breakfast twice in a week. I think that the manager’s response does say more about the other shoppers, but it is sad that he didn’t even ask if he was bothering you first.

  16. jen

    In the way back years, I worked at a retail shop next to a grocery store. We had a local panhandler that mostly spent her time at the intersection. One particularly cold winter, she started hanging out near the grocery store. I was never more proud than when that grocery store took her in, gave her a job, and worked to get her proper housing.

    In more recent times, I volunteered through my work to help out at a soup kitchen. This particular soup kitchen is open to the public and no questions asked. Anyone who waits in line can come in for a free lunch. I was struck by a number of things that day. The first was the sheer amount of really amazing food that had been donated by the “gourmet” branch of the same grocery chain mentioned above. Next was the utmost respect that the workers in the kitchen had for the people they were serving — they worked hard to make everyone who came in feel really good. Finally, I was surprised at myself and the level of mental gymnastics I had to perform to withhold judgement. It wasn’t my job to determine if some of the people were “needy enough”. They were there for a meal and I was there to support that.

  17. pharmgirl

    Last month I was approached by a young woman who asked me if I wanted to save some money. She wanted me to buy her state debit card from her. I declined.
    I don’t know her reasons for selling it, I didn’t ask. I doubt if I would have gotten a truthful answer anyway.
    But I did wonder if she had kids. And I hugged my own boy a little tighter. And I bought extra for the food bank at church.

    One person’s suffering is every person’s problem.

  18. Aimee

    I’d be inclined to give the benefit of the doubt because something about that makes me think that he’s probably been at the receiving end of quite a few complaints from other shoppers and he thought he was preempting one from you. Maybe. Or he’s a jackass who would have complained about it if he’d been the customer and not the manager. Difficult to say. Neither option is exactly bewitching me, because either there’s a lot of high-and-mighty customers, or a jerky manager. What a fine choice!

  19. Em

    I am going to give the manager the benefit of the doubt. What if, for whatever reason, you did feel threatened or intimidated by this person? He would have been doing the right thing to make sure you felt safe in his store and if the person outside was a menace (clearly he wasn’t, you know that but perhaps he didn’t), he would be smart to have the man removed from the property (and if the police were called and the man was a risk, one would hope he would get an assessment somewhere. Am I being naive to hope that? ) . To take it further, if he was intimidating people, he could have put himself at risk from a person not as nice or unarmed as yourself.

    I think you both did the right thing. You took care of the man outside, the manager made sure you were ok. Try to see it from his perspective, what else could he do? I wouldn’t say his concern for you means he didn’t care about the man outside but as someone else said, and it is sad, he can’t have his store become the local hangout for homeless people. You can only do what you can do.

  20. Zilla

    I, too, would have been angry with the store manager. Thank you for buying the man outside the store a meal. I hope you made his day, and that someone else might be inspired to do the same thing for him (or anyone) another time.

  21. Holly

    I think it says a lot about our society. Very, very sad. I would have been angry…

  22. Scottsdale Girl

    You did what was in your heart. That is all that matters.

  23. Angela

    I agree with that first commentor. It is likely that others have complained about it and he was trying to be proactive in case you felt the same way. So my frustration wouldn’t be at the store but at society in general though that will do a whole lot. Its hard to boycott society….though I can try my best right? ;)

  24. Rosie

    My husband and I own a 24-hour non-attended laundromat in a medium-sized town in Wisconsin. Our town doesn’t haven’t a large homeless population in the winter, but we did have a number of homeless people show up at the laundromat last winter (our first year of ownership). Every single one of them was intoxicated. (Plus there’s the time a cop actually dropped a homeless person off there to “sleep it off”. That’s another story.) My husband is a very kind and generous person, but we simply cannot have our business become a homeless shelter. He has done what he can to help, from sitting and talking to them, offering rides and food, and even taking one man to an AA meeting. But in most cases, all he can do is call the cops. It makes him sad, but again, there’s no good answer.

    We all do what we can.

  25. Elle

    I’m delurking today to say that I’m sitting here with my blood boiling at that comment from the manager. I won’t say I’m a saint, but that made me pretty upset, so I don’t feel like your anger is misplaced.

    But at least your response appeared to make him rethink the way he framed the situation. I hope after this encounter that manager thinks twice about who he approaches and what he says.

    Anyway, thanks for helping out a stranger!

  26. Kim

    Hmmmmm….Food for thought – no pun intended – I’m not sure what to think. We live in a wonderful/horrible society. These are big problems with simple and complex solutions. I think what you did was lovely. I think the manager’s reaction was likely justified and terrible at the same time. Mostly he was doing his job. I think your anger should be more at the hopelessness of the situation than at the manager directly. Not sure what to think. Nothing wrong with having some compassion.

  27. Cathy

    In today’s world of litigation, stores sadly CAN’T give food to homeless outside of their door, almost uniform in policy as well as practice. What if they’d brought out the peanut butter sandwich you mentioned and the homeless man was allergic to peanuts? He could be hospitalized or die.

    Stores today have to worry about so many types of litigation that most even have a policy to not pursue shoplifters for the very concrete fear that one of their employees can get hurt and sue them.

    I’m also sure that several people have complained to the manager over time about homeless in front of the store. He was doing his job — trying to keep business at the store.

    All this said, however – I know several people in the grocery industry and while they are not allowed to give food and must shoo the homeless away from the storefront, they often shoo them to the loading docks where they sneak them some food. They risk their jobs in doing so, but are decent people and try to take care of others.

    The whole situation is just shameful, really.

  28. Lucinda

    It’s funny and strange how a good deed can leave us feeling so weird. There are certain intersections in town that frequently have pan handlers. I don’t know how I feel about it. I don’t often do anything about it. I find myself having a battle in my head every time regardless of what I actually do. I hate that. I wish it were simpler.

  29. maggie

    #13 Rebecca, that quotation/passage (I’m not a Christian, I don’t know what to call it) made me teary. That should be the mission/vision statement of Christianity and all religions. And yes, I get the irony in referencing ‘mission’ statements.

    I work in mental health in a big city and see this kind of thing inside and outside of the hospital all the time. I suspect that the manager was doing what he was told to do and treating you the way other less kind shoppers would expect to be treated.

    Where I live, 75% of homeless or ‘street-involved’ people have schizophrenia. The rest have other mental health or addiction issues usually. I suspect those numbers hold for most large urban areas. Did you know that 20% of the general population is affected by mental health or addiction issues? Mir, that person you helped is someone’s son or daughter and I’m glad you did it.

  30. Jessica

    I’m the type to over-explain things, so I probably would have kept on explaining to the manager until he understood that the guy said nothing to me and I was just doing something nice for a fellow human. The grocery store we shop at has a policy to donate foods to the local food bank, which is a reason I shop there. I wish I knew how they’d handle a real person showing up at their door who is truly in need. Sadly, all of the homeless people I have known had mental illnesses of some kind, which says a lot about the lack of support in our country for some people who truly need it. (A good majority of those I’ve known have become homeless after they weren’t able to afford meds and housing any longer.)

    Heathir, I love your retort back to that buy. I’m sure he has never purchased alcohol in his life. Not every homeless person is an alcoholic just as not every housed person isn’t an alcoholic.

  31. Kristine N

    I usually do not respond, resident lurker, but the comments from the manager were so wrong. It only speaks to the clientele that shop at the store. I agree there are so many that are just looking for alchohol or drugs but plenty that have run into a rough patch and are just trying to get by.

    Thank you for bringing him in and buying him a sandwich. For a brief moment he was cool in the airconditioning and his hungar pains were gone.

    Bravo for you.

  32. Kristi

    You did good, Mir. And while that manager was just doing his job, I believe your reaction was legit to his concerns that your shopping experience had somehow been compromised. Like those commercials, I hope someone saw your good deed and passed it on.

  33. Shana

    Also a resident lurker…but felt strongly that I should respond.

    I am a Christian and I know that verse from Matthew but comment #13 still brought me to tears. A similar thing happened to a co-worker friend of mine who brought a homeless man into a dinning establishment on the lobby level of our building to feed him some breakfast. The owner/cashier was none to pleased and as a result she didn’t patronize that place for about two years. I’m not suggesting that you should stop grocery shopping. Just that I think that sometimes the people in charge forget about Matthew 25: 35-40 and/or the idea behind it. I think your angry response is normal as you were doing the right thing and where then confronted with a completely opposite position from someone who didn’t understand. Thanks for buying him lunch. I know you said that you aren’t trying to act like you did something awesome. But you did! He appreciated it. I appreciate it!

  34. Andrea

    I don’t think the manager did anything wrong. On any given day I apologize for any number of things that are not really my fault but I do so out of politeness, societal conventions, etc. In his case, the number of times shoppers were bothered by someone has probably harmed his business so he is sensitive to it and was just making sure you were not numbered among his bothered customers. I also think of how often I have heard people, bothered by something, suggested “just a simple apology” from someone would have kept the person going back to business XYZ.

    Rather than being a commentary about the humanity of the manager, I think it is a broader statement of society as a whole that a man with obvious mental illness can not get the help he needs. I work in a mental health community and there are times when some of the clients under our care should not be hanging out by a lobby…nor does my state give the providers of care the resources (financial, inpatient mental health beds/facilites). It is a terribly sad state of affairs all around.

  35. Christina

    I agree with most everyone – you did a wonderful thing, and the manager did what he felt was his job. I know a lot of people do complain about people who ask for money. I’ll admit that I have a hard time with some people – particularly the ones who are smoking a cigarette when they come knock on my car window asking for spare change. I do, however, occasionally pick up a dollar sandwich or something if I’m making a trip for lunch for the kids and see someone who clearly needs the help. I’m leary if giving people money, but happy to help in other ways.

    Kudos to you for buying that man a meal. Probably the first real meal he’d had in a while.

  36. Melissa

    A zillion years ago, I left my small town and went to college in a big city. There were a lot of homeless people on campus. I didn’t have a lot of money,but I used to carry apples and granola bars with me for them. Sometimes, when offering granola bars, they’d say they were diabetic and ask for money. Sometimes, the apples were refused because of bad teeth. It kind of hardened me, hearing that over and over. They really did want money and rarely stopped at the soup kitchen where I worked. I had a homeless person break into my car to sleep causing damage I couldn’t afford to fix. I got mugged on my way home once. These experiences added up.

    Now, i walk by the homeless going from work to the train station. I see them, but my college experience colors my actions. This is changing how I feel. Thanks. Im putting granola bars back in my purse.

  37. Kim

    Homeless people make most of us feel awkward. I think the manager’s response is part of that. How should he respond? The homeless guy is there, he’s not usually there, should he ignore him, should I chase him off, no, poor guy, he’s just sitting there, how are thecustomers going to feel, oh man, now the guy’s in the store, is she ok with that, did the guy coerce her somehow, maybe I should have chased him off, maybe he’s going to come back every day now, ohmanohmanohman.
    Awkward. And awkward is only one step away from angry. So the manager bumbles along after you when you’d already satisfied your awkwardness and just *ruins* the moment, and now you’re angry. But there really aren’t any good answers here – it is difficult to walk by homeless people every day, there are aggressive/drunk/obnoxious/criminal homeless people out there. Almost all of us, including the homeless themselves, wish the problems would get magically solved. And that right there is why I’m a bleeding heart liberal. Throwing some money at the problem might not solve it, but it’s for damn sure that cutting the spending we do on it is going to make it worse.

  38. Kelly

    Because I usually tend to see the “humanity” side of things, I asked my husband, who is a retail manager, what he thought. He said that it’s the manager’s job to protect his employees and customers, above all else. In this case, the man seemed harmless enough, but we all know that there are some unpredictable people out there, and there’s no way to distinguish who’s harmless from who’s not. Unfortunately, businesses can’t start giving homeless people handouts of day-old food out the back door, or they’d end up with lines around the block. There’s no good answer, but like others have said, you did the right thing.

  39. Laura

    I faced a similar situation over the weekend. I figure any good deed is an addition to the good karma pot. I’m not going to analyze, overthink or try justify ANY good deed.

  40. Navhelowife

    I agree with those who say the manager was just doing his job – because if you *had* been bothered or harassed, the manager would have been blamed.
    For all we know, he spends every weekend building houses for Habitat or working at a soup kitchen. But at work? His job is to protect his store and his customers.

    That being said, you did a good thing. I used to keep water/snacks in my car when we lived in Texas and I saw homeless people every day. I’ve given money sporadically but always feel weird about it – not from a “what are they going to do with it” standpoint, but a “what if they decide they want more” safety issue.

  41. dgm

    You did a good thing for someone down on his luck, but please don’t demonize the store manager for trying to run his business. I suspect he probably has gotten a lot of complaints, and he has a responsibility. For all we know, he gives generously in other areas of his life but is not empowered to give away the store (you know, corporate HQ might frown on that). He might have approached you differently by asking you first if you’d been harassed, but still . . .

    The point here is that you did a good deed.

  42. carrie

    The manager did nothing wrong. And you did everything right. That was a very nice thing to do, but I can definitely see the manager’s POV, however sad of a statement that makes about the society in which we live. I don’t think I would have been angry at the manager – he’s just doing his job.

  43. Little Bird

    There is a grocery store in St. Louis that I used to work in. Every day, very early in the morning a van would pull up and a man from one of the local shelters would get out and come to our back door. And every day the store would give him two or three ginormous garbage bags (what? They were big, and held a lot) full off baked goods. We had a contract with them, to make it legal and stave off any law suits. I have to say, that was one of the only good things about that store.

  44. The Mommy Therapy

    This is such a tough situation. I think I understand why the manager spoke to you, like others have mentioned, he’s probably gotten complaints in the past. And in his defense, he’s probably most concerned about keeping his shoppers coming back. Possibly this guy you generously gave a sandwhich was wonderful, but perhaps a crowd of homeless with a mixture of personalities might not be so fun for the store, the shoppers or the nice homeless people that were hoping to catch a break.

    I also understand you feeling angry at the manager. The man you helped just needed a moment of kindness, no shame in that. He shouldn’t be shooed away like a bird.

    Maybe the manager could do more, maybe the local homeless shelter could, maybe that guy could have done more, maybe everyone’s having a tough time figuring all this shit out.

    Summary – life is tough and complicated. Do what you can and then some and ALWAYS be kind to the homeless guy and the manager because you don’t really know what anyone’s got going on.

    Let me know if you want me to over simplify any other life situations. It’s really a gift.

  45. Traci

    I admire what you did. I’ve often thought of doing similar things but have not acted. Now, you’ve inspired me to do so.

    Not so long ago, my husband and I both lost our jobs due to budget cuts. We were fortunate to have family to help. Had we not, one of us could have been sitting outside the store hoping to catch a break. I need to remember that more often.

    Thank you for being a great example and helping me decide to act more often than just think of acting.

  46. Jan in Norman, OK

    Just the other day, I came across a quote from Mother Teresa: “People are often unreasonable and self centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway, Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway, For, you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

  47. vanessa

    God knows I am all about Preventing Rape Culture, but if there was some guy following you/making you uncomfortable and HE looked like a paying customer–snappily dressed, whatever–I seriously doubt he would have asked. Seems lke a class thing.

  48. Elizabeth

    I’d like to publicly acknowledge the produce man from Sack n Save in Starkville, Mississippi, who gave my mother discarded produce when I was a kid. We were eating biscuits and oatmeal, and God sent cantaloupe, watermelons, and peaches through this dear man. I don’t know his name, and he didn’t know ours… Mom just met him behind the store at 6 AM with a five-gallon bucket, and instead of throwing things into the dumpster, he put them in her bucket. She washed them, cut out the bad spots, and we feasted!

    God bless every one of you who finds it in your heart to help those less fortunate than yourselves. There certainly is mental illness-associated poverty, addiction-associated poverty, and a combination of the two, but there is also poverty brought on by unfortunate circumstances. Mom and the seven of us are once again contributing citizens… and we remember those days.

  49. ailo

    I don’t understand all the fury here at the manager. He *was* just doing his job – his responsibility is to the customer as that he works at a grocery store, not a shelter. I quite agree with Em’s comments.

    You did a fantastic thing, and I’m glad this guy experienced someone being kind to him, which must be all too infrequent, but that doesn’t mean the manager was out of line. Perhaps he should have accepted your first reassurance, but why get angry at him?

    There ARE plenty of panhandlers who are too aggressive, and plenty who are dishonest. It sucks that those ruin it for those truly in need. I’ve seen a local homeless man who I gave to when he was standing outside in the cold in a shabby jacket, leaning on a cane, later that week hanging out with friends in an upscale bar. Yes, the money was his at that point, to do with as he pleased, but he deliberately misrepresented himself and his intentions and I certainly felt fooled. I now sometimes give to beggers, but more than money I will give food. And I still prefer to give to organizations where at least there is someone experienced seeing that those who need what I give are the ones to get it.

    It’s terribly sad that there’s no good way to differentiate between the honestly down and those who just want to take advantage, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be wary of it. It’s even sadder that the government cut back on mental health care so much so long ago, and that those without the faculties to survive well on their own are forced to try. It’s even infuriating that the prison system is used as a failed mental health problem dumping ground. But don’t be mad at the manager. It’s not his job to solve the world’s problems.

  50. Diane

    I live in Chicago so I will just say…if I bought a sandwich for every homeless/hungry person I see, I’d be homeless myself.
    That is not to diminish your very kind and generous act. Nor is it to indict the store manager one way or the other. It’s simply to say it is a very complicated issue with no easy way to get to the root of the problem (though I have heard the statistics on homelessness and mental illness–there but for the grace of Zoloft and a loving family go I).

  51. Chuck

    I don’t know, the store manager may have recognized you as a regular customer and was trying to make sure you hadn’t been harassed, not knowing how things actually went down.

    I do like your solution of buying the guy a meal. One time I was panhandled (on Thanksgiving) as I was taking my mother out for dinner. I offered to buy the guy dinner and he declined even though he’d just asked for money so he could “get some food.”

  52. JaneB

    Oh, this is so hard! I always feel bad about these situations, but I’m also socially inept and a bit of a coward about actually doing something… I give every month to the Salvation Army, because I believe that they do a wonderful job with people in need, and I also think they have a much better idea of how to use my resources to make a real difference than I do. But most days that still feels like a cop-out.

  53. Betsy

    I have had a hand-painted sign in my dining room for many years that reads, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Heb 13-2”. I hope my kids got the message.

  54. Fairly Odd Mother

    I may write about this but I’ll spill it here b/c it really bothers me: When we were on vacation, we made it a point to stop for gelato almost every night at this nice little shop. One night, we passed a brother and sister (she was older–about 14, and had that “big sister” air about her). We went in and ordered and as I went up to the register to pay, I glanced back and saw that they have followed us in and were gazing at the case. They asked “how much”, and then walked out a minute later, empty handed.

    I really, really wish I had bought them both a gelato. I could tell they didn’t have any money by how they looked kind of sheepishly at the case, but I talked myself out of it b/c I didn’t want to meddle.

    I wish I had meddled.

    Good for you for buying that man a sandwich.

  55. All Adither

    I keep a box of granola bars in my car to hand to homeless people. Quick, filling, and I know it won’t go toward meth.

  56. Kerry

    My family and I have been living on the road full time for 7 months now. We have encountered more people asking us for food and/or money in that 7 months than we ever have before. We, much like you did always try to give something. Since our house is always with us, giving away groceries hasn’t been a problem for us, but we have also given cash on occasion. It doesn’t make a dent in my budget, but clearly makes a huge difference to the recipient.

    I agree with you 100%, because you have a credit card, white privilege and affluence your comfort matters more. That’s why it’s important to me to do something, even if it’s something as minor as buying a guy a sandwich.

    Completely unrelated, we were in South Carolina last weekend and now are outside of Atlanta. Maybe I’ll run into you at the deli counter. :)

  57. Angie

    As a social worker, who works the with homeless population in a city in Ohio, I want to share my reactions.. I think that what you did – offering a meal, taking the time to allow this man struggling with mental illness to make his choice, actually giving him a choice – is wonderful. You did what we strive to do in our work – affirm his dignity as a human being.
    I personally know a number of pan-handlers by name. I have had honest conversations with some of our folks with addiction – yes, panhandlers who want money to use alcohol or drugs exist. We don’t recommend giving money. Instead offering food, water, or what we call “street cards” (a piece of paper with community resources) can be an alternative. But this gentleman clearly was more than happy to receive a meal. He was hungry, hot, and probably has not been able or willing to get the care he may need.
    I suspect there have been less compassionate people who have complained about having homeless people by the store. I suppose there could have been problems in the past. I think that the difference – clearly an important one – is that you were not complaining. You voluntarily assisted him. That is very different than someone who comes in to complain. The manager should have recognized the difference, especially after you said he wasn’t bothering you, and left you alone.

  58. Heather

    You did good, Mir. I think the manager was just trying to do his job, but like Angie said, he carried it a bit far when he didn’t take you at your word that you were fine and un-harassed. I’m also a lot more comfortable giving food or water…I really like some of the commenters’ ideas of keeping granola bars or bottled water in the car. It can be tough to find a balance…but we all need to remember just how blessed we are, and how little it costs us, in the grand scheme of things, to be kind and generous.

  59. Alice

    I don’t think you’re overreacting. The manager was showing *no* compassion for the man outside in his interaction with you, and he wasn’t listening to you or respecting *your* feelings. Ostensibly, he was worried about your comfort, but since he kept at it after being assured that you were fine, it’s clear that he was really looking for a ‘not my fault’ certification more than reassurance that you were fine. Both elements are ire-inducing.

    I have sympathy for the manager – given the paranoia around liability, the ‘easy’ solution of offering food from the store is often impracticable, and if he’s not used to these issues, having a ‘resource card’ or other approach may not have occurred to him. Being in his position would be hard, and we don’t always respond well when surprised by difficult situations (I sure don’t). But while I have sympathy that that part of his job holds no easy answers, that doesn’t make his behavior towards you or towards the man outside ok.

    It’s not always easy to live our lives or to do our jobs with compassion, and we’re never perfect, but that doesn’t mean we get a pass on it.

  60. liz

    *sigh* No easy answer, is there? Jake and I used to have a policy that, if we were asked for money, we gave it. We figured that if the person was desperate enough to ask, we had an obligation to help. HOWEVER, because of our suburban locations for both home and work, we didn’t run across too many homeless people.
    I have given all the cash I had to someone in my local grocery store’s parking lot to help them buy gas. My magnanimity changed when I was very obviously given the once-over before I was approached with a sob story. After I declined them, I mentioned it to someone at the store. She told me that she had seen those people before in the parking lot.
    So, I still give money and food occasionally. But not as freely as I used to.

  61. Rachael

    I’ve done a lot of transcription work that has dealt with homeless people. Wanna know the one thing they say matters to them the most? That someone sees them and cares about their well-being. Yeah, some of ’em will buy alcohol and/or drugs, but a lot of them are truly hungry. And a lot of them happen to be Vets. We simply allow God to be our guide as to who we give to and who we don’t give to, or who might need a meal. They may be homeless by choice or homeless because of crappy circumstances. Either way, they’re not society cast-offs. They need someone to care, just like we all do.

  62. addy

    no, yes, no, no to answer your questions
    Don’t think too hard about this – you helped someone who obviously needed help. Thank-you.

  63. sandy

    I think in any situation like that the question is “What’s the right thing to do?”. If you see a person suffering in the heat and you buy them lunch I think you did the right thing. In our area we have PADs (homeless) shelters and food banks. Our church is active in both. What I’ve learned is “homeless” encompasses a lot of different people. We re seeing the elderly who somehow do not have the money for a place to stay. We see middle aged and younger people who have lost their jobs. We see some people with psychological problems. And we see people with drug and alcohol problems. In the fall and winter the shelters are open to them in the evenings. But due to lack of financing many of our shelters are closed in the warmer months. So the homeless live and sleep on the streets. I also think the reality of homeless con men making big bank with their daily pan handling is few and far between. The majority of the homeless are needy in one way or another.

    So you did the right thing. I wish the manager had show some compassion but I understand his business concerns. What I really wish is that we had safe year round housing for those down on their luck. And that we had enough good food to feed them. And of course the social services to help those that are able to to get back on their feet.

  64. Renee

    @Elizabeth, Starkville’s my hometown, too!! So glad the manager was generous with your little family. I’ve never encountered the things in MS that I have in Las Vegas. Here, it’s every man for himself, and people are downright rude!! They are asking you for a favor and acting like you OWE them. Southerners are the opposite–politely asking for help feeding their children, not lining the streets and working the intersections with a money bucket. And your mother taught you well, to appreciate the help and to remember God’s blessings with gratitude! I’m sure all of you have found ways to pay it forward.

  65. Russell

    I am a manager at a grocery store in the Seattle area that has a large amount of homeless guests.

    I have to tell you that what that manager said to you was totally wrong. The fact of the matter is that he was probably more concerned with losing your sales dollars than the fact that the homeless gentleman may have been harassing you.

    I believe that a grocery store is one of the centers of a community. And I mean all of the community including the homeless.

    At my store we only remove people from the property when they are truly harassing people, being aggressive, overly drunk and/or drug seeking.

    We have homeless people that shop and spend money in our story and they have as much right as you to be in the store. So for the deli employees to be giving him odd looks I say shame on you.

    Also? At my store we donate everything that is possible to the local food bank and a local church who makes a weekly dinner for the community and provides food for the few tent cities around Seattle.

    If other stores aren’t doing this, then they should at the very least be doing that.

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