This week, I’ll be working a big event at the convention center. As a vegetarian, I never know what kind of food I’ll get at these things, so today, I stopped by Whole Foods to stock up on a few protein bars to take with me, just in case.
On the way home, I saw a homeless guy standing on a corner begging for change. A few questionable maneuvers later (thank god the road was empty right then) and I pulled my car up next to the guy, rolled down my window and offered him what I considered to be the tastiest treat in my bag- an apple pie flavored Laura Bar. He took one look and shook his head.
"You don’t want it?" I asked.
"I don’t eat stuff like that" he said.
Now I was expecting something kind of like this. Most homeless people just want your money. Not food or drinks or even clothes. But I wasn’t expecting him to start yelling at me.
"You know how much money I’ve made today? A dollar! I need $25 so I can get a motel with 3 other guys tonight! That’s just my share! I’m going to freeze out here tonight! I don’t have a tent anymore! I don’t have blankets! I don’t have anything!"
Whoa! I didn’t bother mentioning that it’s 90 degrees outside today and he’s in no danger or freezing. I just yelled back “I don’t have any cash! I never carry cash!” since that was obviously what he was after (and that’s true, btw) and rolled up my window.
By this time, people piled up behind me and the light was red. So I was stuck waiting for the light to change. He wandered, trying to get cash, but after that display, I’m sure no one obliged. So he came back and kept motioning for me to roll down my window. Finally I did. And he went off again on another rant.
"You know what I ate yesterday?" And he made a zero sign with his hand. "You know what I ate the day before?" Another zero sign.
"Then why won’t you just take this?" I ask him. "It’s good. It tastes like apple pie. It’s practically candy."
"I don’t eat things like that.
"Like what?" I ask
That caused some confusion. I had to repeat the question like 4 times. “You don’t eat things like what?”
I don’t eat things that’re good for me.” he replies.
Finally I just said “I’m going to throw it here on the ground, take it or leave it.” So I threw it down as the light was changing to green, he bent down to pick it up and I drove off.
Will he eat it? Sigh. Who knows. But I guess this is an important lesson. Sometimes, even when you’re trying to do good, it will go unappreciated. Or you’re doing something for someone with nice intentions, but it isn’t what they asked for.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthy of your time. Intentions count and if you had kindness in your heart, maybe they’ll remember it later. Like tonight when he gets hungry, or trades it to another homeless guy for a cigarette. Or maybe he won’t remember it.
The road will definitely be easier if you set out to give people what they want instead of thinking you know better than they do what they need. I don’t think it’s a #fail but I might not bother with that tactic again. We’ll see.