A woman had just finished eating dinner at a nice downtown restaurant. She had enjoyed a delicious gourmet pizza and had wrapped up the piece she could not finish in a take-home bag. As she was walking to her car, she noticed a teenage boy sitting on the sidewalk. He was holding a sign that said “Hungry, homeless…anything helps.” She felt the familiar knot in her stomach as she passed the boy, so she decided to offer him her pizza. He thanked her and she went on her way, now with a sense of pride for the good deed she had done.
When she reached her car, she looked back at the boy. She saw him open the take-out box, look at the pizza, and then put it in his bag. She instantly felt angry and deceived. His sign said he was hungry, but clearly he wasn’t or he would have eaten the pizza.
“Just another street kid trying to make money to buy drugs” she thought.
Just then, she saw me in my red outreach vest approaching the boy.
I was happy to see the boy, who I know as Kyle. I knelt beside him and offered him some socks, granola bars and water. As we were chatting, the women approached us and pulled me aside.
“Don’t give him any food. I just gave him pizza and he didn’t even eat it.” She said before walking away in a huff.
“What’d she say?” asked Kyle
“Nothing, don’t worry about it. “ I told him.
“She just gave me some pizza but it had anchovies on it. I didn’t want to be rude so I just put it in my bag” said Kyle.
I can relate to Kyle. I hate anchovies. I don’t understand how people can eat these slimy, salty creatures. If I was living on the streets of Ottawa I would not eat anchovies. I’m sure that most people have some food that they would not eat if they were homeless.
I can also understand the frustration of the woman. Many people feel deceived by panhandlers and are not sure how to help them.
My advice to the woman is this: whether you give money, food, gloves…whatever, you are giving a gift. Once you give a gift you have no right to control how the person uses it, as it is now theirs. By interacting with the boy and offering him food, you have done a very good thing. Even though he didn’t eat the pizza, you have showed him that you care. That is much more important than the pizza itself.