This afternoon, I gave $30 to a complete stranger. I'm not sure if it was the right thing to do, but I'm glad I did it anyway.
I don't consider myself one who is easily conned. I'm generally pretty skeptical. And I have very little trouble saying no to people who ask me for money. When this woman approached me in the parking lot of Home Depot, I had every intention of blowing her off.
But something in her story rang true. In a nutshell, she told me that she had moved to the area three months prior and had been looking for a job ever since. She said that she was due to start a job on Monday, but that she had to show a state-issued ID Monday morning, or the job would be given to someone else. She had scraped together the money necessary to get a copy of her birth certificate, but didn't have enough to pay for the ID.
Sounds like a scam, right? And who knows? It might have been. But there was something about her that made me believe her. She showed me a receipt proving that she'd paid $18 to get her birth certificate yesterday. And her mannerisms--she seemed so embarrassed, and so nervous. And desperate.
But I almost never have cash on me. I gave her what change I had--less than $1--and got in my car and drove away. And then I worried. By the time I arrived back home--where I did have cash--I'd decided to go back.
I changed my mind six or seven times as I drove back. By the time I pulled into the Home Depot parking lot for the second time, I'd decided that I was being an idiot. Part of me hoped that she would no longer be there. But she was. And as I watched her talking to other people, she became visibly more upset and panicked looking. As I walked up to her, she was in tears. So I gave her the money. And I'm glad I did.
Thirty dollars is no small amount of money, but it's also not a big deal to me. I could afford it without really thinking twice. And something that I kept thinking about during this whole experience was that once upon a time, I was in a precarious enough financial situation that I couldn't handle unexpected expenses. Waiting tables was perfect for my mental health, but it was hell on my bank account. While I made enough money to pay rent and other critical bills, it took very little to send me into financial crisis. But I had a safety net--while I don't know that my parents ever really understood what made their college-educated daughter take three years off to work in the food service industry, they were willing and able to help me out when necessary. If I hadn't had them to lean on when I had an unexpected medical bill, or on that memorable occasion when I accidently hit submit twice when paying my student loan (which paid it twice), I don't know what I would have done.
So maybe it was a scam. If so, so be it. I know that if I hadn't given her the money I'd still be worrying about it. And while I know that I'm not responsible for other people's lives, I also know that I don't do enough to help people who are less fortunate than I. And maybe--just maybe--I helped someone take a small step toward independence. I'll never really know. But I do know that I'll sleep better tonight.