Updated on 02.17.09

The Giving Pocket

Trent Hamm

When I was about twenty years old, I was walking near the edge of a rough part of Des Moines, Iowa and I saw something that’s stuck with me ever since.

There was a young boy there, about six years old, and he was climbing out of a dumpster behind an apartment building. He was dressed in a dirty tank top and shorts and was barefooted. In his hand, he had a wadded-up fast food bag. When he hit the ground, he ran around to the far side of the dumpster, opened up the bag, and pulled out a handful of french fries, which he stuffed in his mouth as though he were starving.

I have never in my life felt so compelled to help someone out, but I didn’t know what to do. I looked around and spied a McDonald’s about a block away and so I walked over near the child and said hello to him. He looked scared and started to run away.

I told him loudly that I wanted to buy him some food. He stopped and looked back at me for a minute. I told him that I was going to go down to the McDonalds down the street and buy him some food and that I would come back and leave it by the dumpster. He could come and get it if he wanted.

I decided to do it this way because I figured the kid wouldn’t follow me there and I also didn’t want to create the appearance that I was abducting him. He seemed to understand the arrangement, so I walked down to an ATM, withdrew $20, went to McDonalds, bought about $15 worth of food (thinking he could perhaps share some with his mother or any siblings or friends he might have), and put the change from my twenty dollar bill in the bag – four ones and some coins.

I came back to the dumpster and the boy was gone – which I kind of expected. I put the bag on the ground by the dumpster, looked around, and walked away. I watched for a little while, but I never saw the boy come back. I ended up just leaving the food there in hopes that the boy would eventually come back and find it, but to this day I don’t know if he did or not. I like to think that he came back, found the bag, took it to his mother and his little sister, and they were able to at least get some calories in their system to sustain them for a little while.

This experience has stuck with me for more than a decade now. I’ve seen some situations where desperate need was quite obvious, but never again has anything stuck with me quite like that barefooted boy squatting on the ground beside the dumpster eating rotten french fries.

There are so many situations that we come across in our lives where people could be helped out with just a little help at the right moment. I’ve seen a single mother (with two kids beside her) offering to sell the wedding ring on her finger outside of a grocery store. I know an elderly couple who have been very close to having their electricity cut off this winter. A close friend told me about a food pantry that simply ran out of food and had to turn people away at the door recently.

Lately, I’ve started carrying more cash in my wallet than I ever have before. Each week, I put a couple twenty dollar bills in the back pocket of my wallet and rarely do I spend them. Instead, I just let this cash accumulate over time until I find a reason to spend it.

I call this my “giving pocket,” and it’s already begun to make a difference in how I see these kinds of situations.

It’s pretty simple. All I do is keep cash in that pocket and wait until the right moment comes. Inevitably, every few months, I come across a situation where someone is in desperate need – and instead of feeling helpless in the moment, I give them what they need to help with the problem.

I’ve written so often on this site about how I’ve been able to pull myself back from the financial brink and put myself and my family in a better financial place. Today, we’re stable and safe – but there are so many people who don’t share that safety and security, through no fault of their own.

The giving pocket allows me to seize the moment when I see someone that really needs help, and my financial success gives me the ability to keep the giving pocket full.

Perhaps, just once, I’ll be there at the right time to help someone who really needs it – and that one moment of human compassion and help will put them on a better path in life. If I can do that, then the giving pocket is worth far more than what I will have ever put in it.

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  1. Laura says:

    Hopefully he did come back. Wonderful story for why we should all try to help as much as we can.

  2. Sarah says:

    It’s interesting that you regularly set the money aside even though you spend it sporadically. I suspect it would be too easy not to give the money if you didn’t discipline yourself to accumulate it first. A good answer to the kind of laziness/inertia that can prevent giving “when the spirit moves.”

  3. Jack says:

    Hi Trent…I have been following your site for some time now but as of yet have not commented on any of your posts. After reading this post however I felt the need to leave one. Your site was the first personal financial blog that I ever read on the internet. I found it while looking for reviews of your money or your life. The thing I really appreciate about your website and others like it is that you really get to the heart of why people should practice good financial decision making skills. The budgets and the tracking every penny are great practices but the truth and reason for it all really comes through when reading posts such as this one. These practices enable us to make a difference in the world. Instead of just struggling to stay afloat, good financial skills enable us raise others up so that they too can gain the hope and freedom from fear and stress which are the true “Riches” of financial independence. Thank you for all that you do.

  4. Marc says:

    Trent, I think you’ve got a great idea there. I think it would also be beneficial to include some kind of literature on help they could get or the next step. That would be a great future post, in my opinion! I was thinking something like personal finance on the back of 5 business cards, but I think that’s a little too far along for people in that situation.

  5. BirdDog says:

    I love it Trent!!! I used to be a Walgreens manager and I occasionally encountered situations such as this. I often did similar things and its good to know that there are still good folks out there who are willing to lend a hand.

  6. Saver Queen says:

    You know, your deed was selfless, because you never had the satisfaction of watching or even knowing if the boy enjoyed the food. I love this idea, of the giving pocket. I hope that I can be there at the right moment for someone as well. Then again, in this example and in many other ways, we can’t always know the impact that we have on people.

  7. Michael says:

    I have been helped by people who had saved to be able to give, and this encourages me to help others in the same way. Thanks.

  8. erica says:

    That is such an amazing concept! I have been following your blog faithfully since the summer of ’08, and I’m proud to say that I finally created my first “budget” in November. I have started putting money away in an emergency fund, and I will have three credit cards paid off by this summer. I am looking forward to the day when I can have my own giving pocket. Thanks for sharing your ideas!!

  9. Jason G says:

    Wonderful story. Good for you, Trent. I wish there were more people willing to do something when they see an injustice. Sometimes all that is required is a little momentum to create the largest changes.

  10. Dave says:

    Last year, I was in San Francisco and a bum asked me for a dollar so he could buy a hamburger. Instead I offered him the leftover food I was carrying in my hand (it was untouched). He turned it down. Needless to say, I didn’t give him a dollar. Trent, while it might feel good to donate to someone in need personally, don’t you think the money could be better spent given to the proper charities?

  11. tambo says:

    We keep at least $50 – and have had as much as $200 – in the back of the checkbook for emergencies and unexpected events. Sometimes that money has gone for our own little crises, but more often than not it’s helped others. We’ve paid for kids in our daughter’s class to participate in activities they’d otherwise miss, we’ve helped stranded motorists get car parts and helped install them, we’ve bought diapers and formula for total strangers, easily covered the cost of eating out with family members who are really struggling… It’s nice to have that little giving pocket.

  12. Kristin says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s great to know that selflessness still exists at least a little bit!

    When I was growing up, the pastor at our church was also the director of a local homeless shelter and he told me something that’s stuck with me for a while. Keep one dollar bills on you. One dollar will buy them the bottle of water or apple that they desperately need, but if they’re looking to get high, or buy alcohol or cigarettes, it won’t fund it. I thought this was such a great idea and I keep 10 ones in my glove compartment for such cases. It’s not much, but out here it really can save someone’s life!

  13. Bill says:

    Instead of just hanging on to the money in a giving pocket, why not just give it… to a charity that helps people in need. I do so through a charity aided by my church. In addition to the money that goes to in the collection plate I also give cash and other sundries (cleaning supplies, non-perishable foods) to the ministry my church helps support.

    I really don’t like giving to those people who hang out on streetcorners with signs. Too often I’ve seen them when they LEAVE their corners… in cars. I’ve seen them network and vanpool. With many of these so-called homeless it is really a scam. They hang out and collect your money and live tax free.

  14. Camilo Payan says:

    I agree with Dave, the money would be better spent at a charity. Even a local charity, and you can maybe direct that person to the charity if it seems like they would help.

  15. Battra92 says:

    I never EVER give handouts. I know that sounds cruel and heartless but honestly, I have no interest in giving money to bums. They can be better helped with the appropriate charity.

  16. Carrick says:

    God, there are so many things that make me wish I were in the right place at the right time like that. I used to work in a place where there were a lot of stray cats, and people would sometimes hear meowing and rescue the kittens they found–and imagine how many kittens died because no one heard them.

    However, I think you do have to be careful: a lot of things like that are scams. In Berkeley, a woman came up to me begging for help because her daughter or whatever had to be rushed to the hospital or something, and as she explained the situation, something didn’t sound right about it (I forget what it was), and it was clear that it was all a lie. And sure enough, I heard her giving the same spiel to someone months later.

    So I think it is better to give to proper charities: although it’s less rewarding, you know it’s going to be used properly and honestly. The compromise would be helping someone you know personally.

    But Trent, how do you feel about giving to charity when you’re in debt? Do I really have money of my own to give if my net worth is in the red?

  17. Caleb says:

    I think this is a great idea – I do something similar and it feels great to be able to help someone out in need.

    To Dave^^ – I have often thought about this but I have come to the decision that if I feel that somebody is in need and I decide to give them money, food, etc… Once that leaves my hand what they do with it is between them and God. If I am giving a gift it is with no string attached.

  18. Anne says:

    I hate to sound cynical, but living in a big city made me that way. Every day, literally every day, I’m approached by someone with some story or other, and most of them are fabricated stories. I’ve seen the same well-dressed woman in a parking lot on consecutive days telling people her car has just broken down and she just needs a few bucks. I’ve seen someone who was obviously strung-out offer to give me a junky “wedding ring” in exchange for train fare for her and her 5 kids (but she did the math wrong, asking for full fare for her kids (who were nowhere to be seen)). The stories can be very creative, but fall for them and you might be doing more harm than good. I agree with Dave #8–give directly to a food bank or other local charity and let them do the screening.

  19. Brittney says:

    I LOVE this idea, and have wished so many times I had just a few dollars to help someone. I will start doing this today!

  20. Craig says:

    That is very admirable of you. It’s almost better to not know the result, this way you have a good sense that the kid did come back, and you did help.

  21. Mama Koala says:

    This is Great!

    My husband often says, so many are willing to take a chance on the lottery to make themselves even MORE rich, but are not willing to take the chance that the person that appears in need truly needs it.

    This has helped me change the way I used to look at certain situations–I was definitely one of the “they’ll just use it for alcohol” people.

  22. Veer says:

    I understand the skepticism of people being asked for money and getting scammed.

    Hence, as a rule I never hand out money. If someone is hungry and needs food, I buy the food and give it to them.

    Even if someone is lying, I feel that there is no harm in feeding a person for one time.

  23. Jess says:

    I’ve never commented on this site before, but I’m compelled to point out that I don’t think Trent is just talking about helping strangers on the street… yes, that’s what charities are there for. But there are lots of other opportunities to help people. A couple of years ago my husband slipped on the ice & broke his leg & being self-employed was unable to work. I was pregnant & on bed rest & was unable to “pick up the slack.” It was a scary time for us. But I will NEVER forget the kindnesses we encountered from people we barely knew… for example, one of my father-in-law’s coworkers dropped off a plate of Christmas cookies & tucked in with the cookies was an envelope with $200 in it. That money – and especially the thoughtfulness behind it – meant the world to us, and it came at just the time we most needed it. That was a very tough time, but we made it through and in many ways it was a blessing in disguise. We learned that sometimes the simplest little thing can mean the world to someone. We also learned to pay attention to ways that we are able to “pay it forward” to people in need. I think that’s the kind of thing Trent is talking about with his “giving pocket,” and I think it is a wonderful idea.

  24. jb says:

    I understand the scam concerns, but what makes anyone think that “proper charities” are any better at avoiding the scams? And lets face it, some charities (a small minority) are scams themselves. As long as you don’t put yourself in danger, I think carrying a few extra dollars for such a situation is a good idea.

    Kudos to Trent for helping this kid out (or at least genuinely trying).

  25. Johanna says:

    But Trent, I thought you thought sucess was a choice. Now you’re saying that there are people in bad financial shape and it’s not their fault? Which is it?

  26. liv says:

    wow, that’s really nice!!!!

  27. typome says:

    I’m in LA and I’ve been asked by normal-looking people for $5 here, $10 there, for all sorts of stories; they ran out of gas, they need to pay rent and they’re going to get kicked out. So I’ve grown cynical, especially when I see the same lady canvassing the same area for days on end. Few, VERY few people beg for the reasons these people claim. Most people will bust their butts to make sure they can pay rent, and will only resort to begging in the end. So just a cautious warning, don’t always hand out cash, and if they need help, maybe give them a phone number where they can go to instead, like a shelter or other non-profit, or like another poster said, give them your leftovers or food.

  28. Abby says:

    I hear what some are saying about fraud. And I’ve worked for many good nonprofits and know that ALL of them could really use an extra $20/month. In fact, I lived in a city where the area shelters were running a campaign to encourage us to stop handing cash to the homeless and donate it instead, on the theory that our $20 would go much farther if it wasn’t spent at McDonald’s.

    I agreed, until a priest I knew countered that generosity is a gift *to* the giver. We aren’t responsible for the outcome of our charitable act. We’re called to be alive in the world – to not turn away from human suffering if we can possibly do so.

    That’s exhausting, though. I like the idea of putting a few dollars in my pocket when we plan an outing, though, and handing them out.

    I’d also note that giving can be good in more ways than one. Several years ago we were hiring a consultant for a big project. A homeless teenager often slept across the street from our offices. After one consultant left our meeting, I happened to look out the window and see her put money in his cup. There’s no way she knew I’d be watching – or that I’d be impressed by her actions. But we hired her, mostly because I saw that she had compassion – and that matters.

  29. Michelle says:

    I think people need to understand the difference between people that are begging and helping someone who is clearly down on their luck (which Trent did). There is no way to know why someone is asking you for money or how it will be spent, but buying someone who is hungry food is different. Keep in mind the boy didn’t ask for ANYTHING.

    As for “proper” charities, they have there place, but they don’t fix the fact that the boy Trent saw was hungry (possibly starving) and needed food at that moment. Charities can’t be everywhere. Some people will never ask for help, and many (especially now) are struggling to keep up with the amount of people who need help. The act is commendable. Great Job Trent!

  30. Jade says:

    Dave, I saw the exact opposite happen once in San Francisco. I was with a friend and she had leftovers she was carrying, and a homeless person asked her for her leftovers. Unfortunately, they weren’t mine to give otherwise I would have given them.

    This is always tough in the big city, because there are a lot of people out there asking for spare change. Almost every time I go to SF (I live right across the bay) at least one person asks for change, more depending on how far I’m walking to my destination. It’s impossible to tell if the person is honestly hungry or if they’re just wanting to buy drugs or booze, and so I’m reluctant to give them cash.

    But whenever someone says they’re hungry and there’s a fast food place nearby I’ll offer to get them something, or if they’re trying to get someplace I’ll ask them if a bart ticket would help as I usually have one with enough fare on it to get almost anywhere one way. Very rarely do people accept though… But it always makes me feel better when they do accept and I can help them and know that I’m not fueling an addiction.

  31. Su Prieta says:

    This was a really nice story. As soon as I read it I put five dollars in the change compartment of my wallet and will try to continue to collect there for these types of situations, i.e. a request to buy girlscout cookies from a coworker or request to make a donation to a particular charity.

    I also live in the city and have seen the scams. I was followed down the street one time by an angry man when I refused to give him money, so I am very wary.

    But, I will always remember the guy that I used to see pushing a shopping cart around the city (washington, d.c.). If you live here, you’ve probably seen him. He wears a very distinctive yellow hat and can be seen on any given day sweeping the streets and picking up trash. He has never asked me for money, but I have offered it to him (hoping not to insult him). He is clearly in need and has offered so much to the beautification of our city. He is a consistent exception to the norm in the city.

  32. Daina says:

    Most of my charity money goes to established churches and charities, because I support the work they do and feel that it’s good for an infrastructure to be in place. But I agree that there are times when we can make a bigger impact by giving directly to someone, even a stranger.

    I’ve offered granola bars to people on the street asking for cash. Sometimes they don’t want them. That’s fine. Sometimes people are truly grateful for the snack.

    Once a man caught up to me in a church parking lot. He said he and his wife had just moved halfway across the country so he could take a new job, but his apartment wasn’t ready, unexpectedly, and they didn’t know a soul in the city and didn’t want to go to a homeless shelter. (Honestly, I wouldn’t either…) He said he’d found a cheap hotel (showed me a copy of his lease, a printout of the hotel quote) but did not have enough cash to pay. He said he could give me a check as long as I promised not to cash it for a few weeks, until he got his first paycheck from his new job.

    It was the kind of thing that would have been pretty hard for me or anyone to verify, even though he’d done his best to prove his situation. I had a good feeling about the guy, though, so I went to an ATM and took out my last $80 or so (I was a student and hadn’t started my summer job) to help him pay for the couple days at the hotel and gas. He gave me a check to cover just about all of it and wrote his phone number on it.

    When I called a few weeks later to see if I could cash the check, the number was dead — if it had ever been in service, it had been discontinued after the move. (It was an out-of-town number.) So I cashed the check anyway, and it didn’t bounce.

    Sorry about the novel, but I think there are times when it’s good to help strangers, and in this case I even got paid back, mostly.

  33. Fantastic idea! I’ll have to put this to use. It’s amazing the little things you can do to be prepared to help those in need.

  34. jb says:

    “But Trent, I thought you thought sucess was a choice. Now you’re saying that there are people in bad financial shape and it’s not their fault? Which is it?”

    You’re kidding, right? Success (or lack thereof) is often a choice, and Trent has indicated that. But I don’t think he’s ever taken the extreme point of view that its *always* the case. This was a six year old kid, who BTW wasn’t asking for anything.

  35. Dave says:

    “Proper” charities can be researched and verified. A man on the street corner cannot. It’s not uncommon that you’ll find a significant portion of a charity goes to overhead instead of helping people, and I encourage you to research charities to find out which ones will most help those in need.

  36. Julie says:

    The kind of charity he’s talking about here requires that the giver decide in their mind that what you’re doing is selfless and that even if the other person is abusing a system or abusing drugs or in some other way unworthy you’re still okay with letting go of the $. If you aren’t, don’t do it. Some people will take money and walk right into the liquor store, others – particularly little kids who don’t yet have an opportunity to create their own success aren’t incredibly likely to do so. I had the opportunity to do so when a woman with a few kids in front of me in the grocery line was choosing between cough medicine and milk because her bill was $3 more than she had. I was more than happy to pick up the difference for her. I have passed by plenty of people on the road with will work for food signs and kept the window rolled up because I’m not comfortable giving money to the guys who do that. Putting money aside for when the right situation according to your belief system is simply a nice thing to do.

  37. Amber says:

    Regardless of how you feel about charitable giving to adults, a child should never go hungry in this country. We have the means to feed them. Helping a child in financial need whether buying them food or helping them with school expenses can only positively effect our society. It can be the difference in breaking a poverty cycle. I hope everyone who would see a starving child on the street would feed them. If you wouldn’t you should seriously ask yourself why.

  38. Laura in Seattle says:

    I don’t often give change to people who ask for it on the street. (And here in Seattle, there are a lot of askers!) Mostly it’s because of the reasons others have mentioned — I am concerned that I might be feeding an addiction, or that a charity could do more with the money. (I did donate $20 recently to our local food bank.) I do occasionally give change to street musicians, because they’re working for it.

    However, I do sometimes give out food as well. I agree with you, Trent — sometimes if you see someone clearly in need, you can’t help but try to help.

    One day I was coming home from work and saw a homeless man spreading out a sleeping bag on the sidewalk. He looked old enough to be my grandfather, and it was a chilly night. He didn’t ask me for anything. Down the block was a supermarket that I was planning to stop at. I ducked in, got my things, then picked up an extra bottle of water and a roll and bowl of hot soup from their soup bar. I went back outside and went up to the man in the sleeping bag. “Excuse me,” I said, and when he looked up, I opened my bag and handed him the bread and the container of soup. “It’s still hot,” I said.

    His face was completely surprised — and thrilled. “Well, thank you, sweetheart,” he said. Then I pulled out the bottle of water and said, “I got you this too.” He picked it up, raised an eyebrow, and said, “I dunno about that. You know what fish do in this stuff?” and winked at me. I cracked up laughing and wished him a good night.

    Never saw him again, but I’m pretty sure I helped someone who needed it that night. And I still laugh at that joke. :-)

  39. Hope D says:

    I think Trent’s idea is a great one. My husband and I made an agreement when we got married that if either of us felt moved to help a person in need, the other would back them up. My husband is very friendly and has helped many people, and I am there to make up the couch or pack the box of food. I support food banks, and church charities, but I believe a personal gift can be the best. I know there are gimme people and there always will be, but I would rather make a mistake out of generosity than to miss the opportunity to help someone in genuine need.

    Not having debt frees people to give. Dave Ramsey talks about this in his books. I have seen it quite often. Someone wanting to help, but unable to because they would not be able to pay there bills if they did. They are trapped by debt.

  40. Donna says:

    Hey there, Trent. I’ve never posted before, but I wanted to say this is a commendable thing to do, I think.

    If people here are worried people will do unpleasant things with their money, there are a number of charities that help with “small scale” stuff. One online is called Modest Needs. Their website is modestneeds.org. Not affiliated with them, but it’s a nice website. They basically prevent people from falling further and further into debt and such. It’s a great way to help people directly without spending a lot, donating to a huge and faceless charity, or worrying about it.

  41. I’m not trying to be glib or anything, I swear. But those McDonalds french fries almost certainly were not rotten. Don’t believe me?

    Check out Morgan Spurlock’s (of Supersize Me) video on how fast McDonald’s food decomposes. The fries never do:



  42. Karen says:

    I do give money to bums or beggars on the street. I understand that some of these people may not be needy, but I would rather give and be taken advantage of than not give to someone in need.

  43. Sarah says:

    Me, I’d rather make a generous mistake than a selfish, hypocritical (“oh, I would *totally* help you, but you *might* spend it on something not good for you, so I will conveniently keep my money in my pocket!”) one. How many people who claim that they’d “rather give to charity” actually do give that amount? Surprisingly few, I’d guess.

    I understand why people direct their charitable dollars to charities they think will spend the money efficiently, but I also think that learning not to harden your heart against your fellow human-beings in need is a lesson worth investing a few bucks in. And I doubt this is the entire extent of Trent’s charitable giving.

  44. Andy says:

    Trent, I love this post, but its a terrible idea. Handing cash to people encourages begging, and begging turns people into beggers, and being a begger is a terrible psychological state to be in. Begging can also be a nuisance.

    My wife and I tithe — about $5K a year, about $3K to church, $1K to schools, and $1K to local and international non-profits. I also know that, of the $3K I give to church, 15% goes to support other non-profits.

    Another idea — develop a relationship with ONE homeless person, and support that one person over time.

  45. Darlene says:

    Beautiful story, Trent. Just today I made a micro loan on KIVA. I hope that it helps, too. I also like to just give a few dollars when I can. I like the toddlers to see us doing that. It’s a hopeful gesture.

  46. BonzoGal says:

    To those who believe that giving money or food to people on the street that you’re just giving to “bums” or helping out someone’s drug habit- did you read Trent’s story? He was giving food to a kid who was eating garbage! Would you say that the kid was obviously a bum or that his parents were, and therefore he deserved to stay hungry?

    Yes, giving to charities is commendable, but sometimes you’re faced with a need that is so obvious, and you can and should help directly. Yes, there are scammers out there (I live in San Francisco, and see and hear it all the time) but a child eating garbage is not a scammer. I really don’t think Trent meant that you should just indiscriminately give out money, but that one of the blessings of being financially solvent was that you can now lend a hand to someone on the edge. Don’t let the druggy panhandlers blind you to real hunger and desperation of the poor.

  47. Kimberly says:

    This makes me happy. I’m going to have a giving pouch in my handbag from now on. Thank you, for this.

  48. Andy says:

    Which is better:

    a) Giving $20 worth of food from McDonalds to a hungry person. OR

    b) Giving $20 worth of food from an inexpensive grocery store to a hungry person?

    When you give to a food bank, your dollar does more.

  49. Anne KD says:

    Occasionally I’ve given some money to people when I lived/worked in Newark, NJ. It’s not a fun place to be. Things were really bad after the hospitals were forced to let out the mentally ill patients, and the patients had no place to go, no skills, simply nothing.

    I started doing favors for people instead of giving them money- giving furniture to college kids, for example, or making food. It’s not so much a policy of not giving out cash, I just don’t live in an area like that anymore. When people tell me they’ll pay me back, I tell them to pay it forward instead. I prefer to do things like making food for the freezer at church- I have no idea of who eats the food, it’s all given out to needy/elderly/sick/desperately poor folks, whoever asks the church for help.

  50. Kelly says:

    I read the comments just to see how many people would show up to scold Trent for feeding a hungry child. I knew you’d be here! Good for you, Trent. You’ve got a great idea here.

  51. Quatrefoil says:

    I work on the theory that if someone is desperate enough to ask me for money then they really need help – and it’s not for me to judge them. Yes, it’s possible that if I give cash to someone on the street they might spend it on drugs or alcohol or it might be a scam. But in all of those cases, perhaps what that person really needs is the kindness of a stranger.

    I give regularly to charities who provide all sorts of services, but if I have the money on me and I’m asked for a small amount I give it. I’m not really religious, but Christ’s comment ‘when I was hungry you gave me food’ really resonates for some reason, and I’d rather give to someone who didn’t need it than than fail to give to someone who did.

  52. Andy says:

    @#50 — Kelly,

    We don’t know if Trent fed anyone. We do know he spent $15 at McDonalds. Lets stick to the facts and dispense with the warm fuzzies. The poor don’t need our hearts warmed.

  53. Andy says:

    My apologies for the harsh tone of the last post.

  54. Typically I don’t give money to people on the street. When I was visiting DC I went out to eat pizza and took the leftovers specifically to give away to someone who needed it. If you’ve ever been to DC after dark, you know there is definately a need.

    I remember one time a friend of mine gave $10 to someone to get gas for their car so they could get home. I’ve got to be honest, I doubt it went to gas.

    In a situation like your’s, Trent, I am thankful that there are people out there like you, and if I was in your shoes I would have undoubtedly done whatever I felt was the right thing to do. You are a good person, and for those who say Trent should donate to a charity, I have no doubt that Trent does donate his money to a charity, but that doesn’t give him an out for helping people one on one. Helping people in a personal way is more valuable to the giver.

    After Hurricane Katrina I could have sent donated clothing or money to help with the relief effort, but in my mind, that was enough, so I went there and worked in a kitchen serving meals to the people of Waveland, Mississippi for my Thanksgiving break from college. I missed spending the time with my family in order to show my thanks to people who I didn’t even know. Doing that really taught me a lot about myself and I know that there is no way I could ever get that feeling or understanding by donating my money to a charity.

    Thank you Trent for being you!

  55. Len Penzo says:

    Ah, Trent. Your heart is in the right place, but there are lots of people who depend on folks like yourself to get through life without making an honest living. Sad but true.

    If you want to help, do what I do: Give your money and/or canned goods (just no lima beans, people!) to the local food banks and other charities that help the truly needy — it is a much more efficient allocation of resources.

  56. finkle is einhorn says:

    Some dude just got busted by the cops where I live, bilking kind-heartened people out of $40,000 whilst collecting for reputable charities.
    Turned out the guy was just fudging the charity names ever-so slightly.
    Also, my weekly sit-down with the cops (I cover the crime beat) revealed one possible scam, where someone broke into their own vehicle and “stole” $2,000 that had collected for a local charity.
    Who leaves that much $$$ in the back seat?

    I’d nix the giving-to-charity only suggestions, and offer food to the destitute, and perhaps cash and coins on rare occasions.

    My wife came back from the mall one night and said she had just given some guy $10.65 — the price to sleep at the local shelter.
    It sounded suspect, but the figure turned out to be correct, although the gentleman declined a ride to the shelter (my wife thinks he was just too embarrased).

  57. teri says:

    Not all food pantries/food banks are helping, either. And when someone’s hungry on Tuesday and the food pantry’s not open until Friday, then what? Or if the food pantry has a once-a-month policy but the person/family has no job or a catastrophic health issue that has wiped them out? Or if they live in an area where there’s just one food pantry in the county but it serves only people in two zip codes? Or if they’re homeless, the shelter is full, and the food pantry is giving out stuff that needs to be cooked?

    I’m a pastor. I just found out that our local food pantry, which we support with money, volunteers, and food drives, is sitting on $400,000, not spending it, while their shelves are emptying fast and they are serving more people than ever, breaking records every day they are open (three days a week–Mon, Fri, Sat). They are watching the money grow via donations and interest, but not spending it. Why? When so many are hungry, why?

    I don’t think Trent is advocating handing out cash. It sounds to me like he has the cash on hand to do something with it that people might need, and that’s different. Having said that, as a pastor I write checks for people in need, I give them gift cards to the grocery store (and they can be used for alcohol, though they’re not usually enough $$ to make that worthwhile). It’s basically giving them cash. What else can we do? A personal touch, rather than just the phone number of the local food bank, can do wonders in a person’s life.

  58. Faculties says:

    There are two ways of thinking about it. Either you give money, and some of it may go to people who are not “deserving.” Or you don’t give money, and some people who are truly desperate will go without. Which “error” would you prefer? Clearly the people who rush up to you with a big jumbled story about needing the money for some urgent reason are probably scams; but there are so many cases where the situation is less clear-cut, or clear-cut the other way, like Trent’s barefoot little boy. I saw a woman begging at an intersection the other day, and something about her made me think she wasn’t a scam artist. So I rolled the window down and gave her $5. She was so surprised that she burst into tears. Yes, they were real tears. It made me wish I’d had $20 on me. I think it’s important not to get hardened to the scam artists so much that we don’t see how much real need there is in our society, especially in these hard times.

  59. Aaron K says:


    I have a hard time with this. Not because I think there are no people that have genuine needs, but because it’s really hard to figure out where the genuine needs are.

    Before I had a car, I’d take public transit to work. And I would see the same beggars in the same places – day after day. Often with the same signs.

    Many years previous, I found myself in just such a situation. I was homeless, and staying in a shelter. I told them I’d only be there as long as it took to earn enough money to get my own place.

    They bent over backwards for me, but the point is that I worked up from nothing.

    If I can do it, so can many of the would-be beggars. I believe many people are in that situation not because of circumstances, but because they *want* to be there, and are content to remain so.

    I want to find the *real* needs. I’m not sure how.

    Many people have had a HUGE impact in my life, including you, and I want to pay it forward.

    However, I think that requires some stewardship on our part. Does that make sense?

  60. Andy says:

    To me there are four choices:

    Not donating.

    Donating in a way that is destructive of the human spirit (turning people into beggars)

    Donating in a way that is expensive and doesn’t do much good.

    Donating in a way that is cost effective.

    I choose the fourth option.

  61. Sky says:

    Unconditional love and/or giving is a concept many people have no idea about. I was on the border of stepping out to the corner of the street with a sign for the first time when I was fortunately rescued. In my life, I have been on the streets twice because of mental illness. I know the streets are dangerous because I have been raped twice. From my perspective, I see people conveniently making judgments to excuse themselves from responsibility in our confusing society. Fundraising is just really a fancy word for begging. If you’re going to spit on people, why don’t you make it at least an informed spit at least. You can’t judge an entire segment of our population by one or two examples. That is prejudice. That is ignorant. Get a life. Get an education. It just makes me angry that predators cannabalise the spirit of others to make themselves feel like better people. Aren’t you something!

  62. Sandeep says:


    Excellent example of at least understanding other’s problems and helping with them when they really need. I know there are situations when you feel it could be a scam or something. Sometimes it is good to start a charity small in some way to get into our habit of doing it rather not doing it at all.

    I would still prefer a charity organization over handing over money(food or clothes is ok) ..but with so many charity organizations around we need to be bit careful there too.

    In the recent Australia Bushfire I purchased 5 e-books from sitepoint.com for $29.95 ..Sitepoint gave that money to the people who were in the need due the damage caused by bushfire. I guess it was good example too for people to get to charity.

    keep up the good work!


  63. i.artist says:

    I keep granola bars(buy one box, get one free)in my car and purse to give. When I bake cookies,I take extras in a ziploc bag. Leftover healthy snack foods, same. Our city has many homeless/transient folk who enjoy finding strategically placed food items. I’ve had the privilege of observing that these are appreciated. Giving to the “least of these” helps me appreciate all that I’ve been given.
    On a larger scale, I also donate to the food bank,as well as other organizations that are in place(church, etc.)Keep giving and find your kindness will be repaid many times over…

  64. Candi says:

    Oh man, I am so glad I don’t have to depend on Trent’s readers for help. I think the story was a good lesson for all and no I don’t think a 6 year old kid was looking for drug money.

    As for giving only to charity or foodbanks, well it’s a start. But using the above example how would a 6 year old get to the food bank himself? Is it really better to let a child rummage in a dumptser or just get him some food? Could you honestly watch a child do that and just leave? Could you really think to yourself, well I gave to the foodbank and go about your business? I sincerely hope not.

  65. Jim Lippard says:

    After having caught people fabricating hard luck stories to seek handouts on the street several times, I don’t give cash to anyone on the street anymore. Instead, we’ve helped out one homeless guy by paying him to do yard work ($10/hr) and another by giving him clothes, books to read, and food for his dog. Our cash goes via Kiva.org to poor entrepreneurs in developing countries and to charities with high (preferably four-star) Charity Navigator ratings.

  66. Mule Skinner says:

    This is a tough one. I have a fear that if I pull out money for a beggar, I’ve just revealed where the money is, and opened myself up for mugging. The little boy in the dumpster is clearly easier to help.

  67. Trent

    Truly touching. You’re a man worth admiring.


  68. Julie says:

    Giving to charity is great, but I think you need to look at the reasons why so many people are in the situation of needing handouts. The US is living through a health care nightmare, there are tortuous application processes for social care and people are rightfully afraid that they could lose everything. Yet the public seems to have a general disapproval of government aid for even the most deserving cases.

    The overall standard of living has dropped below most European countries because the US lacks an adequate social safety net to provide for food, housing and medical care.

    Rugged individualism is great during boomtimes, but once the bust comes, I’m glad to live in a country where the government provides those basics.

    Julie, UK

  69. DR says:

    Working in D.C., I see people at every corner asking for money. After some time, you actually find yourself getting numb to it; you just pass them by. In fact, oddly enough, you get to know them as “regulars.” Some days when they are not there, you actually notice they’re not there. One day I did the same thing you did here, except the man was probably 50 and walked with me to the Burger King. I suppose it helped him for one meal, but it felt like throwing a small stone into the Grand Canyon.

  70. reulte says:

    Spontaneously giving at the sight of genuine need is a bit different than giving to charity. Sure money donated to a food bank or local charity is more efficiently spent (hopefully!) and less likely to be a scam (hopefully!!) but it usually doesn’t touch the person who moved you to that act of charity.

    A giving pocket — I do like the idea; to be prepared to give when the need is there. And that feeds back to the whole frugality lifestyle — to have money when you ‘need’ it.

  71. You handled that situation the right way . . . I hope it worked.

  72. katy says:

    G-d bless you, Trent.

  73. lauren says:

    another person de-lurking. during the winter holidays i do carry extra cash (extra? i never carry cash! lol) just for this purpose. winters are hard here. it’s usually a dollar or two for the guy on the corner with a sign. because it’s not a huge amount of cash – i trust that God will work out what is being done with the money.

    i like your idea and will tuck it away for when we are in a more stable place.

  74. KoryO says:

    Ok, I get not wanting to get scammed or have your money go to support a drug/drinking habit.

    But, the kid in the story was SIX YEARS OLD, people! That’s a bit young for a junkie, or a bum, or some other “parasite” label, don’t you think? Not to mention that he probably couldn’t get to a food pantry by himself (much less properly cook the food….if you would trust a six year old with an oven or stove you aren’t much of a parent, IMNSHO). I did a lot of crazy things at that age, but dumpster diving for discarded french fries wasn’t one of them.

    I used to work in downtown Phoenix, over by the state capital, near the homeless shelter. I’m sure there’s people here who would say I got scammed by handing out the occasional bottle of water on a hot day, or by giving someone a granola bar now and then. After all, there was a soup kitchen in the area, right?

    I’m not a religious sort, but there are a lot of people here who apparently never heard of the Biblical story of angels in disguise. I’m just hoping that I never passed one up so I didn’t feel “scammed”. I’m betting that kid might have been one….and fortunately Trent did the right thing.

    (Note: I am NOT saying that you should give to everyone you meet. I am saying to use discretion, not see everything in black and white, and always be sure that your heart never gets hardened beyond repair.)

  75. K says:

    A wonderful story. Trent was obviously giving to someone who was in need. And even though the fries were probably not rotten, they certainly weren’t fresh or clean, and the child was obviously desperate to have climbed into a dumpster.

    I remember a time when we were moving and I was driving alone in busy traffic. There was a homeless man walking past each car window asking for money or food. Normally traffic is moving so fast I wouldn’t have time to stop anyway, but now I had no excuse. But I don’t like to give money to strangers without knowing what they will do with it, so I ignored him. But as I drove away, I felt so guilty and cried almost the whole way home, regretting my decision. Now I always keep some juice, granola bars, and canned fruit in my car so I won’t be without an excuse again. I’ve only been able to use it once, but it made me know that I was helping someone in need. I’ve heard of church groups making up these “give away” bags to sell to their congregation for $5 as a fundraiser and to help others be able to give as well. I think that’s a great idea.

  76. What a compelling story Trent, thanks for sharing. I guess now I’ll always wonder if that kid came back… but somehow I know he did. I also love your conscienceness around remaining willing to be used by God in this way again. I am certain that the day will come when you are in the middle of a similar situation and your willingness to serve will be leveraged to great effect. Consider the legacy of that young boy being your current openness and sustained willingness to help others. I image he fed your soul 10x over how you fed his belly.

  77. Sandy says:

    I’m with Julie…there are thousands of 6 year olds in this country who, because of the big fear of the boogyman called socialism, or general relief, and medical care for all,are scavanging for food. Perhaps because mom had to file for bankruptcy due to illness (which would not happen in the UK or other socialist countries)or got kicked out of her house, due to next to zero social safety net.
    I feel for the poor in this country and really think the deeper question is what can we as a society do to make sure a 6 year old doesn’t ever HAVE to dumster dive for food. Jesus DID say something about that, didn’t he?

  78. SteveJ says:

    Trent, this idea is inspiring, I love the idea that I can someday have my financial house well enough in order that I can give money when the situation arises.

    I also really like the idea of granola bars, it’s a sure sight better than throwing a quarter at someone.

    I agree with the idea that whatever you give is a gift. It’s not an investment, you don’t get to put strings on it. I always wonder about the churches that want to do charitable good deeds and then attach stipulations like we have to check out your situation, you can only come once a month, or you have to “join” the church. Still noble and worthy, but that’s not charity, it’s a contract. Likewise, once I choose to give, it’s outside of my control what it’s spent on. I don’t see it as any different than giving my brother $50, sure I want him to spend it on gas, but if he spends it on beer, it’s his choice. Once I pass a value judgment, I’ve gone from giving to bartering (I’ll give you this if you do that).

    I’ve been ripped off MANY times. I’ve stupidly given up my last $5 when I didn’t have food for the week myself (their need was greater than mine). Bad people will always be around to take advantage of the good, that’s a lousy reason to give up on doing good.

  79. Ken says:

    Interesting post. Our pastor has started a ‘lean year fund’ for families going through hard times. It’s a clay pot sitting at front of church and each Sunday people put money in knowing it will pay someone’s light bill or buy groceries…it has been a great thing…some weeks there’s been over $3000 put in for one service.
    Hats off to you for helping those in need.

  80. Moneyblogga says:

    I no longer give handouts to any adult who comes up to me on the street and asks for it. I have to say that children are a whole other matter. If I had seen a young child climbing out of a dumpster and eating rotten food, there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that I would’ve made the same gesture as you did.

    After spending the past three years watching adults crack-smoke their government dole money away, all the while neglecting the needs of their children, my entire perspective of the needy adult has changed somewhat. It may be harsh but, in my own personal experience, I have come to see that the bums looking for a $20 bill from a well meaning individual are merely looking for their next drug or alcohol fix. They live the lifestyle they want to lead. At my ex-apartment building in the low income part of town, social workers would come and go, money would be handed out, and the tenant’s drug problem would go from bad to worse. Many of the tenants “couldn’t” find the money to dress or feed their kids but they sure could find it for cigarettes, booze and drugs. It was just a real slap in the face for me personally to wake up and realize that all the do-gooding in the world would not change the joblessness and dependency that government programs have created, generation after generation. It is indeed the children who pay the price and I got sick of watching the same scene play itself out time after time.

    I contribute to charities as I am financially able. I take clothing and furniture which is in good condition (no trash) to a local battered womens’ shelter. Several years ago, I helped to organize a drive for toiletries, toys and other sundries for the same shelter. Do I feel compelled to give a stranger in a grocery store parking lot money? Not at all. Nine times out of ten, I know what he/she is going to do with it.

  81. Megan says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. I think that one of the best benefits of being financially stable is knowing that you can help others. Especially now, we can be thankful that we have a roof over our heads and enough to eat and enough that we can give to those that don’t. You are a good man and I truly enjoy your blog, thank you.

  82. Sylvia says:

    I live in a relatively affluent area, so I only very rarely see individuals in need. However, we’ve always donated to food drives, and I’ve begun buying extra groceries every time I go to Costco to donate to a local teen shelter which is currently struggling to feed its residents.

  83. Katy McKenna says:

    I have a giving pocket, too. I add to it, but never count how much is in it. It could be $15 at one time, or it might have built up to $200. Once in a while, I am impressed to give everything in the pocket to someone in need. In my case, this is usually someone in my church that I have at least a limited acquaintance with. But occasionally it’s a stranger. So far, I’ve never given this “pocket money” to someone who’s asked for a contribution. Not that I might not someday….but so far, the $$ has been given to those who are not asking for it or expecting it.

    It’s really enjoyable for me to NOT KNOW how much money I’m handing over. I don’t know why I get such a kick out of that aspect, but I do. Like Trent not knowing for sure whether the child came back for the bag, but imagining what happened if he did…..

  84. sara says:

    @Moneyblogga (#76)

    This has been my experience as well. By giving them money, its not HELPING them, its ENABLING a lifestyle that is not best for them.

    Think about it- if nobody gave change, or bought lunch, the begging lifestyle and sleeping dirty on the streets wouldn’t “work,” and so people wouldn’t do it- they’d find another way to survive.

    But- i think that ideas like the shelter donations and the “lean times fund” and various broad or specific giving where you know it will be well used is very compassionate and good all around. And Trent, good idea to have money set aside so that you’re able to provide when the opportunity comes along.

  85. teri says:

    sweeping, stereotyping statements make me sad. I’m glad I didn’t know about them when I was a child whose parent was surviving on welfare. I’m glad I didn’t know about them when I watched my mother struggle to put food on the table, feeding my brother and I before eating what was left herself. I’m glad I didn’t know about them when we had to move in with my grandparents because my mom (who’d gotten divorced from an abusive druggie) couldn’t afford to pay rent. I’m glad I didn’t know about them when I was on the free lunch program. Because you know what? They become self-fulfilling prophecies. So those sweeping, stereotyping statements we make may actually be part of the systemic problem here. Perhaps. Just a thought from a well-adjusted, contributing member of society (a young adult with a secure job, a rarity in these days) who grew up in a poor family that used a government safety net.

  86. Andy says:

    My hunch is that people who give cash from their pocket a) give less to charity and b) give less political support government programs to relieve poverty than those who don’t give pocket cash.

    My hunch is that the pocket cash crowd is more concerned with their own feelings of guilt, and the non-pocket cash crowd is more concerned with ending poverty.

  87. Susanne says:

    After Oprah’s “giving” show several years ago, I set a goal of someday being able to give away $100 bills. My dad occasionally gives them to me (he calls them gift certificates) and it is a great treat. I added a “missions” section to my envelope method and started putting in $1.00 a day.
    When it first added up to $30, I was too excited and anonymously shared it with a friend going through a tough time. Instead of waiting to save up $100, I realized I could help more people, more often. Now when I’m close to $20, I start looking for someone/ somewhere to give.
    So many blessings, so little time.

  88. Johanna says:

    @Andy: What’s wrong with feelings of guilt? Guilt can be a powerful motivator for people to do the right thing. But I think that a lot of the pocket-cash crowd might also be motivated by the sense of power they get from playing the generous Big Daddy philanthropist. If the socialist bogeyman ever attacks, and we start to acknowledge that people have a basic right to things like food, clothing, shelter, health care, and dignity, then the pocket-cash folks will no longer get to choose which poor people are worthy of help and which aren’t. Maybe that’s what they’re afraid of.

    Through my donations to Oxfam, I’ve probably saved the lives of several people in the developing world. I have no idea who they are, and they have no idea who I am. And I think it’s better that way.

  89. Matt says:

    I personally don’t understand why there are bums. They have all the time in the world to stand around begging for money. If they just went to work at McDonalds or something, there’d be one less bum on the street and one more member of productive society. I don’t give to anyone on the street. Ever.
    And the $1 bill comment… yeah, your $1 doesn’t give them their crack habit… but 20 people who give $1 does. Your “selflessness” may actually be promoting the drug market or other black trade. Even if that kid did come back and take it to his family, that only encourages his family that they can continue doing what they do.
    It’d be great to know that what you do actually helps, but we’ve already seen through the government that just handing out money and food doesn’t solve the problem. You have to somehow instill a work ethic in these people… and I’m afraid that’s something you’ve just not going to do.

  90. Larabara says:

    Several years ago, I was at a gas station where a man holding an empty 2-gallon gas can was asking people for money to buy gas for his car, which had run out of gas “a few blocks away.” Someone who was pumping gas stopped pumping, took the man’s gas can and filled it with gas. The begging man thanked them profusely. After they finished pumping the rest of the gas into their car and drove away, the begging man walked over to a nearby storm drain and POURED ALL OF THE GAS INTO THE STORM DRAIN!!!! When someone else pulled into the gas station, the begging man held up the empty gas can and started the con all over again. Seeing that just pushed all my buttons and I was disgusted. After that I NEVER give handouts of any kind, but I do contribute directly to charities a lot more.

  91. Andy says:

    @#83 – Johanna — I agree completely. I guess there is nothing wrong with guilt, but there is something wrong with being more concerned with our own feelings of guilt than with practical and political solutions to poverty.

    Your donations to Oxfam probably have saved lives. God bless you!!

  92. Yvette says:

    Trent…wonderful post! I am inspired by your story.

    To those who say “give to charity”, you’re missing the point. The kid Trent helped was probably not going to go to a charity for help. And if he was getting help from a a charity, he wouldn’t have been digging in the trash. Yes, give to charities of your choice. But still take the opportunity to help individuals out where you can, like Trent did.

    To those who won’t give money to people on the streets in case they are feeding an addiction…I understand your concern. However, I feel that if I am giving someone money because they said they need help, then what they do with that money is up to them. Yes, they might buy drugs or alcohol. That would be unfortunate. But who am I to judge them for that? If I am giving a gift, it is without strings attached. If alcohol or drugs is how someone copes with being on the street, then they need help, not judgement.

    Thank you, Trent, for reminding us that frugality frees us up to be more compassionate and giving!

  93. SteveJ says:

    @Andy – I’m not sure about your hunch. I’d say people who give to charities are more inclined to help individual cases as well, it’s just something they think about, so they’re more inclined to do it. My opinion is that people that give only cash are not very common, unless you’re talking about the people who don’t give at all because the one time they did the bum went and spent it on cigarettes.

    I think the most common differentiator is probably the people that donate to causes (cancer, police, scholarships) over poverty (food bank, salvation army, etc). I know plenty of people that donate to cancer research, because you just don’t know if it will effect you (or already has). But poor people on the street “are lazy and need to get a job”. I’ve actually worked on the second prejudice personally, I couldn’t understand why my mom could work three jobs to keep her kids fed and others couldn’t. But I’ve sorta come down on the side that it’s not my place to judge, obviously my mom is an amazing woman and I can’t even keep up with her. Health, education, upbringing, and luck all play a part in a person’s ability to overcome bad situations and it’s hard to see the whole story when you’re looking for a scam.

  94. Erick says:

    There is a rough part of Des Moines? I am from the Detroit area. You wanna see rough! (This was all in jest…..)

  95. DrFunZ says:

    “Which is better?”, Andy asks.

    Responding immediately to a need in front of you is best. If there is a person eating out of a GARBAGE CAN, there is a good chance the person is hungry. This is an immediate need. Walking by and giving the check to the Salvation Army will not help that immediate need.

    On the other hand, just handing out money is not effective in the long run. Giving food, not money, solves an immediate hunger problem. Giving money to an organization begins to address a societal solution.

    Better? Plan on donating ona regular basis and be prepared with an open heart (and a plan) when you meet someone in need.

    When I lived in Manhattan I gave food and a little card with an address for a shelter where the person could get more food and a bed to stay in. Then I made a regular donation to the shelter.

  96. SteveJ says:

    @Andy, Johanna – I do agree with the hero aspect though, I submit few people can resist the huge boost to their self esteem to make someone’s day. It may not be that different from gift giving in general, you want to see the recipient’s face light up if you’ve spent any time at all planning the gift. Good or bad, if it makes a difference I’m all for it. I agree that big charities can do more with a donation, but if it’s a choice between no donation or a selfish guilty one, I think the latter is just fine. Whatever gets things moving.

  97. Sarah says:

    @ Matt #84
    Do you seriously believe that it is as easy as just walking into a McDonald’s and asking for a job? Folks who are homeless don’t have the wardrobe to look presentable, a phone or even an address to be reached at! Yes there are people who choose to beg rather than put in the effort to find work. But for people who have had a run of bad luck and find themselves without shelter, a simple directive to “get a job” is impossibly difficult and incredibly ignorant.

  98. Another Librarian says:

    I am stunned by the number of posters who seem to be saying that they wouldn’t give food to a hungry child. Have you ever been hungry? If not, go without food a few days and see how it feels. Give to worthy causes all you like (I certainly do), but I’m pretty sure that none of that have an exclusivity clause that would keep you from helping invididuals if you are so inclined. I generally don’t give to people asking for money on the streets–but would I to a child climbing out of a dumpster who needs food and hasn’t asked for a penny? I think so. And would it be from guilt? Dear me, no. It would be because of compassion. And love. And would it make me feel all proud and good? I’m afraid it would make me sad that I couldn’t do more–and I’m pretty sure I’d write a check to a food shelter within hours. There is no “magic bullet” to solve the hunger problem, and charities are just one answer. And, this shouldn’t need to be said, but I will–it’s not that child’s fault that he’s hungry. Want to read a good book about children at the mercy of their parents? Children who went through trash cans to find food? Pick up “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls.

  99. Kelly says:

    1995, living in Chicago. Came to stop light and saw a homeless man, begging for money for food/would work for food, etc. For the first time in my life, I took a chance, went to a McD. and bought him the works…and the apple pie. Returned, handed it to him from my car window and said I wanted him to have a good meal. And he told me that he “didn’t eat McDonald’s food.” But if I could give him some money he’d like to get food he really liked. Yeah…that experience changed me forever, too, sadly. I hate to be a cynic, but I have yet to offer up any money, etc. to any “begger.”

  100. spaces says:

    Trent, you’re one of the good guys.

    Those of you chirping about the “appropriate charities”, you don’t get it. There is nothing appropriate about a starving child eating out of a dumpster. There is nothing appropriate about a child on the streets. The “appropriate charities” and the “system” obviously failed this boy miserably.

  101. Jean says:

    My brother died last year. For most of his adult life, he had enough to get by fairly comfortably, but was not wealthy or even solidly “middle class”. For some part of his adult life, he was just getting by.

    After his death, his wife of only one year told me a story. She said that when they were dating, he would always make certain that he had a pocket full of one dollar bills. She asked why and he said that he wanted to be able to give something if someone downtown asked for it. Her reply was much like most of ours…those people are homeless…they could work…etc.

    My brother replied, “I don’t want to meet the Lord and have to explain that I thought that man was unworthy of my help.” From that moment on, I have always made certain that I have “Mike dollars” in my pocket.

  102. Bill OBrien says:

    One of your best entries! I’ll try to do the same, although I share the many reservations about ?needy street people.
    Bless your blog.

  103. David says:

    Trent: Thank you for getting this community to think about this. Regardless of whether you serve God or Reason, I think we should all follow Trent’s lead.

    To those with a Bible, I would refer you to Matthew, Chapter 6…the first few verses.

    To those without, I offer Kant’s Categorical Imperative (more formal, and more rigorous, than the Golden Rule:) “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

    I think helping our neighbors fits in both worldviews. And, if you don’t think the bum/ druggie/ beggar/ starving child/ ne’er-do-well/ town drunk/ weirdo is “your neighbor”…then I would ask you to reconsider your definition.

  104. Jaded says:

    I volunteered and then had paid work with the YWCA shelters, food kitchens etc. for many years and became jaded, unfortunately. I watched too many people come in over the years for food yet would still have their cigarettes. YEs, the kids are different. They most often have no choice and have been dealt awful circumstances. But parents that get “their checks” and head off to the liquor store for their alcohol and cigarettes are pathetic and deserve no handouts. Too many adults living on the system and on the backs of taxpayers.

  105. Johanna says:

    @spaces: The thing is, there is more than one hungry child out there. If you’re considering the whole world, the number is probably in the hundreds of millions. Is the one that Trent happened to see any more deserving of help than all the others that he didn’t see? I don’t see how he is.

    Trent’s $20 bought a couple of meals worth of not very healthy food from McDonald’s. The same $20 could have bought 60-80 meals if donated to a food bank, and maybe even more if used to help children in the developing world.

    That’s not to say that Trent was wrong to do what he did – just that when you look at the big picture (which, to me, is the picture worth looking at), there are more efficient ways to help than to make spontaneous gifts to needy people that you happen to run into.

  106. i.artist says:

    We who have such resources should always be prepared to give wisely on the individual level, as well as the global: Samaritan’s Purse and Heifer International provide basic necessities AND ways to earn a living(livestock, etc.)

  107. Jo says:

    Trent’s actions fits into the movie, “Pay It Forward.” Ever since I saw that movie, I’ve felt compelled to do the same, but it hasn’t been one of those occasions that I helped someone and, “Voila, I did my part.” For me, it’s an ongoing mission of mine that, when the circumstances warrant to do so, I will help in any way that I can. It doesn’t have to be giving of my dollars, but just helping out in other ways.

    It doesn’t always have to do with charitable occasions, either. At work, when a guest checks out, if they don’t have enough on them to pay their entire restaurant bill, I am more than ready to pull out some change to make up the difference. This happens mostly to senior citizens. I also do this when I am standing in line at the grocery store, waiting to check out, and happen to see the person in front not having enough to pay for their groceries. A few dollars certainly won’t kill me to help out the person.

    “Pay It Forward” is something many of us should practice on a daily basis; not just with our money but with our thoughts and actions, our property that we certainly would do alright without.

  108. Lenore says:

    Wow, this certainly hit a nerve, based on the number of responses. To the cynics: grow a heart! I’m wary of people on the street asking for money because it could be a segue to violence. Still I’d rather be scammed than feel guilty about not helping someone in genuine need. Having worked for a non-profit agency for over a decade, I am painfully aware that donations don’t always go to the people who need them most. I have taken “charity begins at home” as my motto and concentrate most of my giving on people I know or agencies that have earned my trust.

  109. Karen says:

    I think what Trent did was AWESOME!!!! Now I am inspired to get some bars, water, peanut butter, crackers, etc. and keep in my vehicle to offer those who are in need. If they don’t want then they don’t get. Yes some are fraud but if they are hungry they will eat and if they choose to trade for booze who cares – that is their choise. Again KUDOS to you Trent.

  110. Sue says:

    I haven’t had a chance to read all of the comments but thought I would add another idea (hope it’s not a repeat).

    I routinely go to fast food places and buy $5 gift cards and keep them in the glove box of the car. That way if I see someone while I’m driving I will fish out a gift card of a local fast food place (don’t be mean and give a card to a restaurant that is too far to walk!) and give it to them. I also keep snacks in the car (granola bars, fruit leather, beef jerky, etc.) and have given those away too.

    Yes there are many panhandlers out there and some are obviously not as needy as others. But I have no qualms getting the gift cards or giving them to those that are HUNGRY. You can see who they are, they are gaunt, skinny and malnourished. It’s the humane thing to do when you see someone starving. We all need help sometimes…

  111. Andy says:


    Stop what you are doing.

    Right now give $150 to the Heifer Project.

    A child needs this money.

    Click on my name and give.

    Afterwards, come back here, and let us know that you gave. Lets see how much money we can raise.

  112. Laura says:

    My husband and I were approached in a fast food parking lot on vacation last summer. I gave the guy the $14 he asked for (to fix a tire). Maybe I got taken. But I have never worried once that I did the wrong thing. I never missed the $14. And I had peace of mind that I’d done what I could at that moment. We give money to charity regularly – this was on top of that. If I hadn’t helped the guy i always would have second guessed myself. It cost me $14 for peace of mind. Thanks for setting a great example, Trent.

  113. Andy says:

    I just gave $150. A child needs you.

  114. David says:

    @Andy: genius.

    I’m down for $20–for a flock of chicks.

    $150 was a bit steep for me, so I clicked “Give” and got a menu of choices.

    I donated in the name of The Simple Dollar (in honor of Trent).

    Who’s next?

  115. Johanna says:

    Better yet, commit to a monthly donation of at least 1% of your income to an organization that’s fighting extreme poverty. See thelifeyoucansave dot com for more details.

    I’ve got another $200 going to Oxfam in about five days.

  116. Carol says:

    Dave @ 2:44 pm February 19th, 2009 Comment #10

    Dave, Do you think it might have been your attitude that kept him from accepting your help?

    It’s possible.

  117. Gigi B says:

    It makes me feel so good to know so many ARE helping others. When my husband & I go for dinner somewhere (fast or sit-down) we always look around to see if anyone might need some food. We’re not rich monetarily, but we’re comfortable enough to be able to help others…and our hearts seem to feel the need to do so. God’s will, not ours. We see the same homeless man every week at a freeway offramp, so when I received a scratch-off lottery ticket for Christmas, and won $20 I gave it to him. You should have seen the look on his face…priceless!
    Giving feels good! I fully recommend it.

  118. Robert_S, says:

    Finally an article on this RSS feed that was worth reading.

    Thank you, when I can afford to do this I will.

  119. Mary says:

    I’m the biggest cycnic alive and I think what you did was great. I used to volunteer in a food pantry and asked God to help me to not be judgemental. If people want to “use” the system I just figure it’s on them! I can live with my choices. I was behind a man in the grocery line that I know is homeless, ( I see him picking up cans to buy his food. ) I waved to the cashier that I wanted to buy his food, which amounted to a couple of bucks. He wasn’t asking for anything and was gone before I could give him more. Sometimes it takes very little to make one day better for somewone else.

  120. A few posters have asked why most posters are focussing on the merits of giving money to adult transients/panhandlers rather than Trent’s opening story. I think there’s a good reason for that – while the story of the child scavenging for food was very moving, it’s not a typical story, and it’s not the situation that we need to make decisions about on a daily basis.

    Personally, I’ve never seen a six year old dumpster diving for food. Have you? If so, how many times in your life? I’m not claiming that Trent made up the story, just that it was an unusual circumstance. And I’m not claiming that there are no starving children in our cities, just that they’re rarely starving in front of our eyes like this. If you want to help hungry children, you have to donate through a charity or volunteer in some organized outreach – because the hungry children aren’t going to just cross your path very often.

    On the other hand, when you encounter a person who looks needy or asks you for an individual donation, 99.5% of the time it’s going to be an adult. And as an adult, he or she may have a substance addiction or be a scam artist. So when we discuss how to respond to individual needs/requests, we need to take that into consideration, because those are the decisions we make on the street every day – not whether or not to feed innocent children.

  121. Roger says:

    Very profound posting, Trent. I hope that the little boy did get the food you left, and that it helped to keep him (and possibly his family) fed, at least for a day. Debates over larger macro issues of poverty and charity aside, that is a wonderful story to share.

  122. jreed says:

    why do we give? we give because we want to feel good about ourselves. If we tell someone else about our giving, we have spoiled the purity of the gift. Give, and be quiet.

  123. I think anyone who disagrees with Trent leaving food for a hungry child, or keeping a fund for anyone in need he might meet, is entitled to do so, and also entitled to refrain from doing it themselves.

    They don’t have the right to tell him not to do it, and what he should do instead. Is that so hard to grasp? What part of ‘inappropriate’ is difficult?

  124. Erin says:

    Great post, Trent! And I am glad that many people feel the way I do – you can give generously through organizations but also show compassion in daily life. I loved the analogy that someone posted: why do people feel comfortable paying money to the lottery in the odd chance that they will win, but uncomfortable giving a hand-out because the person might not be in need?

    Of course there are scams out there, but in many of the big cities, those begging are suffering from mental illness and will never be able to hold a steady job or anything like that. I support by buying the homeless newspaper and donating to the food bank, and to those I see regularly I will buy food, snacks, or water in the hot summer.

  125. bob says:

    yet another excellent post! well done

  126. spaces says:

    @Johanna — I am not interested in judging whether one hungry child is more or less deserving than any other hungry child. It’s not a question I could even ask.

    I wish folks would drop their agendas and stop telling others how they ought to give or contribute. It’s a personal decision.

  127. Andy says:

    My understanding of this blog is that its about how to use our money wisely. Are there ways of giving that are wiser than others? I would argue so. Talking about which ways of giving are wiser is appropriate for this blog. You don’t know who I am, so I’m not doing this to boast about how great I am or anything like that. I just want to encourage everyone to give generously and wisely, and to focus less on sentimentality.

    Surveys show that people in their 20s and 30s tend to give less than older people. We tend to give impulsively and after other expenses. I encourage you to give “from the top” and with a plan.

    Giving should be live saving — something you make a plan for, something you do before other expenses. I encourage you to make a goal of giving 10% of income away, with say 1% going to extreme poverty programs.

  128. Andy says:

    Error “Giving should be LIKE saving . . .”

  129. teri says:

    Nationwide there are over 1 million homeless children, so you might run across them more often than you think. I regularly see families, children, etc, both coming into my office looking for help and at local shelters.

    I live in the Chicago area, so this is a known and chronic problem, and is often caused by underemployment, high rental costs, lack of insurance, mental illness, or other difficulties not having anything to do with substance abuse. Also, substance abuse is often a symptom, not the problem–it’s a way people cope with the realities they face. Does it become part of a cycle that makes it hard to change their reality? yes. Is it the cause of their plight? most often no.
    There are some interesting (and heartbreaking) statistics here: http://www.thechicagoalliance.org/homelessstats.aspx that don’t claim to tell us what to do, but make me want to do something for individuals I see, not because they are more or less deserving than anyone else here or around the world, but because they are here in front of me. If I refuse to help the person I can see, particularly in favor of someone I can’t see (via giving money to an organization that may or may not spend it/spend it wisely), I think I’m betraying my integrity and choosing a life based in something other than compassion.

    But that’s just me. Other people’s integrity and life foundations are different, and that’s okay. I just hope we can show compassion to one another as we try to make the world a better place, each in our own way.

  130. Catherine says:

    I figure, if I’m willing to buy booze for myself and I’m willing to buy booze for my friends, why shouldn’t I help a homeless person buy booze? If I were living on the streets, I’d definitely stay drunk as much as possible, and if someone’s biggest goal is staving off the DTs for one more day, I don’t think it’s so horrible to help alleviate the misery. (Or, as someone else once put it, we’re saying that it’s ok that people are homeless, it’s ok that people are starving, but we’re saying they have to be SOBER while they do it.)

    But that said, the handouts I give are $1-2, and I will give to simple panhandlers, not to people with elaborate stories. I figure it’s the whole neighborhood’s responsibility to chip in to support the homeless each day. My larger donations (figured into my regular budget) go to organizations that help provide long-term solutions.

  131. i.artist says:

    Andy, you are right on the money…
    (in my case, 10% of the sale of each painting, off the top)

  132. Reflection says:

    I’ve given cash to people begging (a couple dollars here and there) as well as food. In Austin, TX there is someone on literally every street looking for something. The ones that were honest with me (you can tell, just talk to them for a minute or two) got something but if they lie I think my money is better spent elsewhere. Some would look me right in the eye and say, “Dude, I need a beer” so I offered a beer or a few dollars. Others ask for food.
    One man was getting kicked out of a restaurant because he wasn’t able to buy anything and on his way out he asked if I’d buy him a slice of pizza so I did.

    Sometimes it’s not about what is going to be done with the money, it’s about a person. Don’t you sometimes feel like you need a beer or a slice of pizza? Wouldn’t your money be better off in a savings account? But you get the beer and slice of pizza because you want it. Well, some people want and want but can’t just get anything at any time. If they’re being honest (again, just talk to them for a minute and you’ll see) then why not get them what they want?

  133. Johanna says:

    Andy, that’s a really good point. There are lots of posts on this blog about whether you can get more hamburgers for your money by making them yourself versus buying them at McDonald’s, or more light for your money by using CFLs or LEDs versus incandescents, or more rewards for your money by using one credit card instead of another. So why shouldn’t it be OK to talk about whether you can do more good for your money by giving to charity versus giving spontaneously to people that you see? Is frugality only worth talking about when you reap the benefits yourself?

  134. SteveJ says:

    @Andy, Johanna – I appreciate the discussion and the links, I actually was only remotely aware of heifer and I spent probably 2 hours on the site the other night looking at the projects.

    I think sometimes we need to do things whether it’s cost efficient or not. I’m numbers driven, very analytical, but I can’t ignore suffering in front of me. That’s why I like the idea of The Giving Pocket, on top of the normal contributions I would do. I think it’s human nature to be more concerned with your immediate community than the world at large, which is good and bad. It’s also a question of scale, global poverty seems so big, while helping a family get through a hard patch seems manageable.

    I’m glad you both are helping raise awareness of what’s out there and still needs to be done. We all should be thinking about these things and doing what we can to make a difference.

  135. Andy says:

    As far as poverty that we can see, insteed of just handing someone food or money, why not take the time to develop a relationship with that person. Take time to listen. Gently find ways to help, really help. Sure, but him or her a bite to eat — but find out how you can really be a help to this person as they recover from whatever put them in this aweful situation.

    By the way, I encourage us all to read Trent’s other posts about charity — he has some good thoughts to go along with this idea here.

    And, Trent, I hope you could do a follow up post to all of this. I think it would be great if you could talk to some poverty and homelessness experts in your area to see what recommendations they have for dealing with these kind of situtions.

  136. plonkee says:

    @Catherine (#129):
    I’m with you, utterly and completely. Everyone always thinks the poor and homeless should be able to resist the temptations that likely enough they can’t resist themselves.

  137. My wife & I were just discussing this topic last night.

    We deduced that our affluence lends us to ungratefulness and an irreverence of God. Would-to-God that we were a more humble and thankful people.

    Thanks Trent, I will work to apply this lesson to my life.


  138. Jen says:

    I read this yesterday, and the thought that stuck with me all day was, why didn’t Trent call the police and report an abandoned child in a dumpster? Surely that would have done the kid more good than giving him fresher french fries.

  139. Seasongs says:

    We have been burned often, but it’s always best to “err on the side of grace.” I really like the idea of keeping granola bars/fruit in the car, instead of passing out cash. So many street people drink or smoke their money.

  140. punditius says:

    We budget for unanticipated charity, in addition to church & the combined campaign & such. We set up a charitable checking account & put a set amount of money into it each paycheck. That money is for our unplanned charitable giving – that is, we plan to give it, we just don’t know who we are giving it to until the occasion arises.

    So the girl who needs surgery gets a check, the band that wants to go to DC to play for Obama’s inauguration gets a check (we voted for McCain!), and so forth.

    We usually have about 500 bucks in the account when some need arises. The objective is to spend it all by the end of the year, & start off the next year with one dollar in the account.

  141. Rich says:

    “There are two ways of thinking about it. Either you give money, and some of it may go to people who are not “deserving.” Or you don’t give money, and some people who are truly desperate will go without.” -Faculties

    Like another (just one, as far as I can tell!) poster mentioned, it doesn’t have to be money or nothing. I usually carry around a 5$ McDonald’s gift card for this purpose.

  142. TJ says:

    My goodness! Trent what you did was good, and I’m not sure why others can’t see that. Not all people get help from charities. Even if the charities have the food and money, some people may not get enough help.

    I like to keep food in my car that can be handed over to people in need. I work for a nonprofit that works closely with the homeless network in our area. Many of these people do get help from different charities but it doesn’t meet their needs. Giving them a few cans of food or some granola bars helps them make ends meet. I also like to carry pet food, as there are a few homeless in our area that have dogs who share in what meager food they receive.

  143. Kim says:

    Some of the posts here have been too harsh to read in one sitting. Seriously. So I came back to it. I’m still so saddened by the lack of compassion, the harshness, the coolness, even the attacking of people who give of their own money to meet the needs of another. I truly hope that such coldness and cynicism is unintentional.

    It does not correlate that giving equates to some kind of big daddy complex. Giving is an act of love. What is big daddy is the way people are sometimes treated by charities and government programs.

    What is kindness and love is the way a stranger came to my aid and helped me with yard work that was simply too much for me, or the marines who helped me pack when I had to move.

    I choose to err on the side of compassion and giving, personally. If I occasionally get taken, okay. Truly, I’m okay with that, though I do try to be smart about it.

    The problem I have with a lot of charities and government programs isn’t that they shouldn’t exist, but that they only wish to help when a need fits into a specific box. If one thing puts you out of that box, then the person doesn’t qualify for assistance. Not that they aren’t needy, simply that they don’t qualify. Their need isn’t the specific need that is met.

    I can, however, see something the agencies cannot. I can see that two elderly people forced to move, and living on a fixed income need help. I can see a single mom who got laid off again needs food for her children. I can see that a relative who just started a job, won’t get paid for two weeks and the food bank says come back in three, isn’t going to make it that long.

    There was a regular beggar at the off ramp on my way to work. He looked strung out, but he also appeared to be living under the nearby bridge. Yet something about him captivated me, haunted my thoughts, yet I am so clueless in the morning, I never remembered to pack him some food.

    It was a Friday before a long weekend and there he stood. Despite his wild eyes, something about him reminded me of Jesus and so I prayed that I would remember him on Tuesday.

    On that Tuesday morning, there was a line of cars, and about every other one was (for a change) handing him bags of food or cash. He had a stunned expression on his face, but I stopped and even having witnessed what already happened, I handed him the bag I had prepared that morning.

    I watched in my rear view mirror as this continued, about every other car.

    I never saw him again, though he had been a fixture for so long. I often wonder about him and the impact of that day of charity upon him. It made an impact on me. I love the whole idea of being prepared to give, not JUST with money, but with things like food that is ready to give, extra gloves or a coat in the trunk of my car.

    In addition to planned giving to the local shelters, to worldwide hunger campaigns and the like, this keeps me from being so removed from need that that my compassion fails me and that I forget to be grateful for my own blessings.

    And having read more of these comments, I am struck by the need for MORE compassion rather than less. It seems that people are quite ready to blame the needy for their distress, rather than to help them in the midst of it and perhaps to guide them out of it.

  144. Lou says:

    I have several times put cash in an envelope for a family in my faith community that was having a hard time. I put the congregational address as the return address on the envelope. The only person who knows about this is the church secretary. I just told her that if a cash-containing envelope comes back marked undeliverable AND she hasn’t a forwarding address, that it’s a contribution.

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