I went to the grocery store the other day, and in front of it was one of those big red poles with a bucket attached to it, and a happy listless man ringing a bell incessantly all through the day. A sign glared at me, pointing a finger to the words: “Need Knows No Season.” The man smiled at me and said, “good evening,” and went on ringing his bell.
And then as I went grocery shopping for my essentials, I started thinking about how I felt after passing up the man with the ringing bell. And how countless other people feel after passing those red buckets without plunking a few coins into them. I realized this feeling was one of guilt, because I have the means to survive, while thousands upon thousands of people live in cardboard boxes and wander the streets in the cold of winter. Never mind that it has been hovering around 60º F for the first week of December in Chicago.
Why should these happy bell-ringing people make me feel guilty? Is it that sign that shouts out to tell me that just because it’s the holiday season, I shouldn’t think that now is the only time to donate money to those less fortunate? Is it the fact that I have to smile and nod and say “sorry” when I don’t put a few coins in the bucket?
It’s that feeling of overwhelming guilt that makes you do it.
But then, how much of an impact are you really making? Sure, it will clothe and feed and house some of the neediest people, but it’s still not enough. There will never be a day when no homeless people are living on the streets, dirty and cold, and in many cases, drunk off their asses. Are these people really just victims of circumstance, or did they get where they are now because of their innate flaws? I hardly think it constructive to help panhandlers, because while some may actually go out and buy food, the negative is that they could just be going out to buy more alcohol or drugs, to make themselves more of a nuisance.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be homeless… to have little money at all, no friends to put you up while you look for a new job, no motivation to really make a difference in your own life and well-being. Why are these people homeless for such long periods of time? Do they really lack the skills to function in society? I mean, anyone can clean floors, or flip burgers. Then again, what does that mean? Sure, most people are physically capable of doing these things. It is being dedicated to the job, to not be lazy and to work in order to keep your stomach somewhat full that makes one get out of the gutter, so to speak.
Do you feel guilty for these people? Does just giving them money, food, clothing, shelter, really teach them to think for themselves, work for themselves?
As I walked out of the grocery store, I took whatever change I had, and plunked it in the bucket. The man said, “God bless you, have a great day!” And that was all the retribution I got.