These days with the number of people unemployed and in need, it’s hard to know what to do when someone approaches on the street and asks for money. Many of us want to give right away, but the appropriate thing is to wait.
Recently my husband and I were approached outside of Cracker Barrel Restaurant just outside Alexandria. Right after we drove up and were walking into the restaurant, a woman approached us and asked for money. I gave her $8. That may not have been the right thing to do, authorities say, because there are nationwide scams in this recession climate. What one might consider being charitable may be really harmful to the greater community. It’s difficult to tell the needy from the greedy, but city authorities say as a general rule to avoid those who aggressively ask for money in public areas. It is really against the law in most places..
Surely there are legitimately people in need, but there are charities set up to help people in extraordinary circumstances. Standing on a street corner and soliciting makes people uncomfortable, especially since folks around can see what they do or not do. But that’s what some panhandlers know. They believe they can get people to give money because people don’t want to be seen as selfish or unconcerned about the poor, especially when they are in a crowd or near a public place where they can be seen. In Cleveland authorities maintain that people who aggressively solicit are breaking the law and should be reported.
Some cities give specific conditions where panhandling is inappropriate. Minneapolis spells it out specifically that people cannot panhandle near a restroom or crosswalk, on any public vehicle, in a park or entertainment venue, at a bus stop, near a parked vehicle or restaurant, at the entrance of a business or government building, within 80 feet of a bank or ATM machine or near a gas station, liquor or convenience store. These are the places frequented by panhandlers so authorities say to be watchful.
So what do you do when you want to be charitable and help the poor. Atlanta makes that clear. It says give to public charities. Churches are also set up to help the poor, and many of them have special offices or buildings where food clothing and necessary personal items may be distributed.
If your heart says give to someone, let your heart indeed rule and soon after someone approaches and asks for money, go home and write a check to your favorite charity. Then you will have fulfilled that need, perhaps not of the person who asked for the money originally but for someone truly in need.