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

Homeless man

Photo credit: Byron James Bignell.

I posted this on 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.

Perhaps I’ve given money to someone who’ll use it to support an addiction. Even if this man did have a substance abuse problem, depriving him of $5 wasn’t going provide momentum to cure his habit. I’ll find other means to contribute and help with those much larger issues. But meanwhile, that small sum of money may have gotten him and his little boy a warm meal somewhere.

And I had nothing to lose but a $5 bill.

How To Build an Indoor Seed Starting Setup

Several years ago, provoked by Spring fever and taunted by the sight of seed starting flats and racks of seeds in the local home goods store, I decided that I would grow seeds indoors. I cleared a corner of a little plastic shelving unit by a sunny window in my mud room, watered down the little Jiffy seed starting pellets I’d purchased, added seeds and hoped for the best. A week later I was amazed to see seedlings sprouting. A month later, I was saddened to see that my seedlings had grown tall and droopy and looked weak, despite my best efforts to sustain them. A few tomatoes survived to be planted outside, but they were never very healthy and I don’t think they ever produced blooms, much less fruit.

What had I done wrong?

It’s All About Light

A little research was all it took to help me realize where my seed starting experiment had failed. My sunny window wasn’t enough to get my seedlings to thrive–they needed much more light. The reason that they’d grown tall and spindly was because they were reaching for the distant light shining through the window, desperately trying to generate enough energy to grow. I decided that if I wanted to try starting seeds indoors again (and I did, because what better way is there for a gardener to chase away the late-winter blues than to sprout green things indoors?) I would have to devise a system to generate light and lots of it. I did more research, and came up with a system that has worked well for me now for a couple of seasons and cost far less than the seed starting setups you’ll find in catalogs.

Here’s what I did… Continue reading