It Begs The Question?

Last Saturday afternoon, my husband and I had just walked out of the Kroger store on University Drive in Denton, Texas with several bags of groceries.  Among our purchases, were two student backpacks for the back to school backpack drive at our church…something we have contributed to for the past few years.

As my husband was putting our bags in the car, a middle-aged woman with a sign in her hand approached me.  Her sign asked for money.  She never said a word.  I can only assume she didn’t speak English.

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I simply said “no” and shook my head.  I don’t like begging.  She walked away and headed to another lady a few cars down.  That woman said “no” also.  I did see her score some money from the next person.

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In the past year, I’ve experienced this scenario a lot.  It happens all the time at the gas station, at the grocery stores, on the downtown Square in Denton, at various intersections in town, and in other store and restaurant parking lots.

But begging the Treasury for

In addition to individuals begging, fast food restaurants and grocery stores often want to know if I would like to donate money to their pet causes.  Every day in the mail my husband and I receive solicitations for our money or our unwanted clothes and household goods.  I’ve stopped answering my home phone because the only calls that come on that line are more people asking for money.

Am I the only one who is weary of constantly being approached for money?  It feels like no matter how much we give and how much we help, it’s never enough.  I’ve reached the point where I’m beginning to feel indifferent to all the begging because of the constant barrage of requests.

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I think most of us want to help the less fortunate.  My husband and I are community volunteers and we give regularly to our church and to our chosen charities. But at what point does all this begging become harassment?

According to abcnews.com, the United States is the most generous country in the world.  The 2014 World Giving Index states that the United States is the only country to be ranked in the Top 10 for all three of the charitable giving behaviors:

  1. Helping a stranger
  2. Volunteering time
  3. Donating money

I wonder, do people give freely out of the goodness of their hearts, or do they give to simply quiet the noise of the begging for a few beats?

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Begging has existed in every society since ancient times.  In earlier times, begging was practiced by those with physical handicaps who were unable to find a means of supporting themselves.  In today’s world, beggars may have a physical disability or they may suffer from mental illness or simply lack the skills for finding and working a job.

the beggar on 50k a year?

Begging also has some roots in religion. Many religions have prescribed begging as the only acceptable means of support for certain groups of people.  Buddhist monks and nuns traditionally live by begging for alms.  One reason given for this is that regular people can gain religious merit by giving them money, food and medicines.

In recent years, many communities have tried to enact anti-begging laws in this country.  Our United States Courts have repeatedly ruled that begging is a form of freedom of speech protected by our Constitution’s First Amendment.

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People in other countries feel differently and a number of countries such as Denmark, Greece, Hungary, The Phillipines, and England have made begging illegal.  Other countries such as France and Italy have enacted legislation and rules about how begging may and may not be conducted.

I first saw begging at the age of 16 when I traveled to Haiti on a mission trip through the United Methodist Church.  We were told to expect begging and that it would be okay to take along small toys to give to the children…the list said things like small dolls, Matchbox cars, jump ropes, Jacks, small rubber balls, marbles, hair ribbons and picture cards of Jesus.  We were told not to give money to adults or children.

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At the time I was there in August of 1976, the average income in Haiti was $70 – $100 dollars per year and the largest occupation for Haitians was farming.  We were also told we would have the opportunity to barter for Haitian goods.  I really liked bartering and will never forget my mother’s face when I opened my suitcase after I returned home.  She looked at my suitcase full of wooden souvenirs and said, “Where are all your clothes?”

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Haiti was the first time I ever saw poverty up close.  It was the first time I knew that underdeveloped countries have a distinct smell to them.  It was the first time I ever saw people living in one room huts, washing their clothes in a river, and drying them on bushes in the sun.

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Going to Haiti at the age of 16 shook my very foundation and opened my eyes to a bigger world than my small town Midwestern background had previously afforded me.  That experience was also the beginning of my love of writing because the first article I ever wrote for my high school newsmagazine was one about my experiences in Haiti.  Finally, those three weeks in Haiti were the beginning for me, of an altruistic spirit and a lifetime (almost 40 years so far) of giving and of community volunteer work.

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I was still thinking about Saturday’s experience when we got to church on Sunday morning.  The topic of the sermon was “Do for Others.”  I couldn’t believe it.  Was God trying to tell me something?  Did I need to go back to the Kroger parking lot and find that woman with the sign?

After church, I was telling a group of friends about my experience and how conflicted I felt about it.  The general consensus was that those who beg are homeless and/or mentally ill.  I asked how others handle all the begging and I learned that the opinions are varied.

Some in my informal focus group said that they keep a couple dollars handy to give to those who ask for money.  Others will offer to buy food.  Someone told of a friend who makes up small gift bags with various items such as bottled water and a granola bar and a toothbrush.  One person hands out the address and phone number of local homeless shelters and soup kitchens.  Some have a strict policy of not giving anything.

This Is Called E-Begging

Our pastor walked up during the discussion and I asked for his thoughts on giving to beggars.  He said that each person must decide how they want to handle the beggars who approach them. He said he has been helping people for years but he usually will buy them food or a cup of coffee or perhaps a bus ticket.

He said the Christian thing to do is to help if we can, but that the helping shouldn’t undermine our responsibilities to our own families.  He also said it’s better to help in a long-term manner if possible.  He said that putting a temporary Band-Aid on a situation is just that…temporary.

My daughter has worked at a restaurant on the Square in Denton for the past year.  She said she has been approached by beggars many times and will usually give them some money.  One woman even came into the restaurant while she was working and asked her for cab fare.  She gave her $10.  She said she is a bit fearful of what they might do if she says “no”.

Anna at LSA

I have to admit, I’m still conflicted about the whole issue.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on being approached by those who feel the need to resort to begging and how you handle the situation?

4 thoughts on “It Begs The Question?”

  1. WOW! This is a hard one for me. I understand both sides of this question. For a long time I gave freely to everyone and anyone, even leaving myself broke to the point that I had no money of my own. I had a very( and still do) sensitive heart for those in need.
    Until I saw a “crippled ” person ride away with a back pack on a bicycle and later saw him go in a liquor store. I felt deceived, and hurt that someone would be so dishonest. Then I grew smarter about a lot of them. Although so many do not have any way(that they can understand) in order to get a job or skills, because of mental illness or disabled physically, there are answers and ways. I feel sorry for the people with children who have lost their job and then in turn lose their home. My heart breaks for them. It also breaks for the drug addict who can not see another way to survive. Will I give either of them money? No, but I will buy them food, fill their fridge, and give them blankets. I like the idea about giving them information on where to get help.
    The reason I will not give them money, is because you do not know which ones will go out and buy drugs or booze with them or really have plenty but are too lazy to work or feel the government owes them something. We have so many choises where those in many countries do not.
    I do believe it is the right thing to help in some way if you are able to those in need. Most of us are so very blessed to have a roof over our head , clothes on our backs and food in our stomachs. It’s hard to call it as so many are users of the system, But can we tell the ones apart? I ‘m not so sure. I remember a time when I lost everything , barely working into a new job, but couldn’t afford to eat breakfast, nor lunch at work because I just had enough to pay my rent, buy toilet paper and gas to get to work. Sometimes I had to borrow money to pay for the light and gas bill. It was tough for a very long time.
    I never begged. I prayed a lot, sometimes all I ate was a box of dry cereal for a week. I still didn’t beg. God was good to me. He showed me mercy and he answered my prayers. I never told anyone because I was too ashamed and embarrassed. I hid a lot from family and friends. Call it stupid or proud if you will. Today I am thankful. I was one of the lucky ones.
    It was depressing and frightening, and I had no handicaps to blame it on. Things eventually worked out for me. I was lucky to have a wonderful man come into my life, and save me from much heartache. I found an honest job and worked hard.
    My heart aches for those who can’t. May my heart NEVER get too hard to help those who really need it, because I was there once too. I hope we remember to count our blessings everyday we exist. Thanks for listening to my ramblings~

  2. Each person will have their own manner in which they show compassion to people who are in need.

    It is great to give to organizations who provide aid to people who are in need.

    The most important thing is how do we fulfill this:
    For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.

    Let us not just give them fish but teach them how to fish

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