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A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out
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Written by Trish West

It was a rainy wet day and in an attempt to get out of the house for a bit, I took the kids with me to Daddy's work — to give him the lunch I discovered forgotten on the counter. As we slow down for the intersection, my 6 yr old starts to read out loud: "Homeless, Hungry, Please help. God bless."

I tried not to look obvious as I watched a man pace the median, holding a cardboard sign and scanning the cars for someone who might roll down their window. The questions start. My younger two innocently asked "where does he sleep?" or "why doesn't he go to work like Daddy?" Whereas the older two, already having a shift in their perception, wonder "Do they really need money?" or "Are they being lazy?" The light changes and we start to drive away — their questions echo in my head. Suddenly I hear my 6 yr old suggest" we can give him Daddy's lunch!" I didn't know what to do. I wondered if I should use the excuse that we had already left the corner or he is a stranger and we don't speak to strangers. I was afraid to expose them to this world that was unknown to my children — the fear of bad things and harsh words. Looking in the mirror and seeing how the kids were watching out the back window and silent — I thought about this being an opportunity to show them how to share God's love through an act of random kindness and prayed it would turn out alright. We turned around and drove back to the intersection, managing to stop briefly to give the man Daddy's lunch. As we drove away we heard "God bless you ma'am." I breathed a sigh of relief.

And so it began. The kids would drop their Toothfairy money into the guitar case of the lady playing in the grocery store parking lot. They tell their friends about the time we bought an extra meal at McD's for a man and his 2 dogs… how the man took out the burger to share with his four-legged companions. They giggle remembering the time I jumped when someone started washing my windshield with a squeegee in hand. Sometimes they ask "why we didn't stop?" when we walk past someone sleeping in a doorway next to an empty hat.

I tried to explain that sometimes it is better give a hand up — not a hand out. My youngest asked what does that mean. It sounds like both the same. So I try to explain the best that one can to a 6 yr old. What if you came across someone who has fallen down? They might ask for help, whereas others will be determined to get back up on their own. We need to respect that. For those who do ask for our help — we can offer a hand up, offering to help them back on their feet. How places like Goodwill offer assistance for people to prepare themselves for work or shelters that can help them get out of the cold. How a hand out would be similar to tossing a cane their way and then walking away. Not waiting to see if they know how to use it to get back on their feet.

I tried to explain that we can't put $2 in every panhandler's hat, bring them back into our homes or offer a warm meal…. Although there are some who do this. When we have nothing to give, what we can do, is to offer them a smile — acknowledge they exist, are seen and matter.

We can pray for those who refuse our help and pray with those who ask.

How often do you hear "thank God we have a home, food or work…"

They are people — just like us…and there's no guarantee that in this life — it won't ever be us.