This was posted by me on the Mennonite Poverty Forum, to which you are all invited as well:
It can be a struggle to know what to do for folks who approach us for
money, or who are holding a sign asking for support. We want to help,
but we often don’t know how. If we give them money, will they use it
for drugs or alcohol? By giving them something, are we perpetuating
their cycle of poverty? Is it better to give to an organization?
As the debate rages on, and we give neither to the beggar nor an
organization that helps them, the one flying the sign is there on the
street, in need. The rumors are not true–beggars do not make an
excellent salary. A really good day might gain them thirty dollars.
But normally, they might get ten or less.
As for alcohol and drugs, yes, some will spend the money they receive
to get drunk. Others are hoping to get a place to sleep for the
night. Others are just wanting to get a decent meal.
One thing we need to keep in mind, however, that a person begging is
desperate for something. No one stands with a sign or approaches
people for money unless they are desperate. It isn’t exactly the best
employment opportunity–one only takes it if other options are
lacking. To beg is to face being ignored, disrespected and openly
insulted. No one would take this as their job unless they are at the
bottom of their options.
So what do we do? The choice that I have made is to carry around with
me items that would assist the beggars, but would not be used to
destroy themselves. Below, I have listed a few items that would be
used to help a beggar, without any detriment. Some of these items we
might have in our cupboards or closets. I just carry these items near
my driver’s seat, so I am ready to pass them out to anyone holding a
sign as I’m passing by.
In this way, I am able to show Christ’s mercy and love without any
By the way, if you would like to hand out tracts to folks, or a list
of meals in the area, they are only appreciated if a practical gift
accompanies the paper. If you just give paper, that’s a good way to
encourage littering. But if you display Christ’s love, they might
assume that your offer of the gospel is sincere and not just someone
else disrespecting them.
A friendly chat about the weather
Breakfast bars or energy bars
A sandwich (Food prepared at home might be refused by some, because
they are concerned that someone might harm them)
A small blanket (not too hard to carry with them)
A kind word (Very rare in their business, and VERY welcome)
An individual juice
A bagged lunch
Besides this, the other thing I attempt to do is to talk to the person
to find out who they are and what their specific needs are. Some
folks are taken aback by this, but others really appreciate being
treated as a human being and not just a post holding a sign (or a
Some of the best signs I’ve seen:
Tired of eating pigeon
Betcha can’t hit me with a quarter
My family got killed by ninjas–Trying to pay for kung fu lessons
Throw change at me