The Guy by Walmart (or Why I Give Money to Strangers)

Homeless man

Photo credit: Byron James Bignell.

I posted this to Facebook a couple of years ago and it sparked a lively conversation. It showed up in my “On This Day” feed today, and I thought it was worth sharing again.


There was a guy by the stop sign on the frontage road that leads to our local Walmart today. He was holding up a sign that said:

“HELP ME. Lost my job. Need money or work to feed my family.”

There was a child with him who looked to be 4 or 5 years old.

I stopped. It’s what I do. When I rolled down my side window, he approached sheepishly and gave me a pained smile. He said hello. I returned the smile, gave him some cash (I don’t have a lot to spare, but I do what I can), and wished him good luck finding work. He smiled that sad smile again, nodded his head, and said, “Bless your family.”

I was holding up traffic a bit, but honestly no longer than a few seconds.The man in the car behind me rolled down his own window and shouted:

“Way to go! Give him money to buy booze. Stupid!”

I couldn’t explain to the guy in the car—and I suspect that, even if I could, my explanation would have fallen on deaf ears—but here’s why I give money to strangers:

I don’t judge them based on how needy they look. I don’t think about what they’re going to do with the money. I don’t weigh and measure them at all because that’s not the point.

If I’m giving money to someone who’ll feed a habit with it, or someone who’s taking advantage of my charity for any reason, I’m okay with that, because I’ll sleep well tonight knowing that I did the right thing when someone asked me for help.

Even if this man did have a substance abuse problem, my depriving him of $5 wasn’t going provide momentum to cure his habit. But it may have gotten him and his little boy a warm meal somewhere. And if it didn’t, because he misspent it, well… then I’m sad for him.

But I’m not sad for me—my conscience is clean, and I had nothing to lose but a $5 bill.

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