Saturday, August 15, 2009

My good act for the day...

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.

4 comments:

Jenni said...

you went with your gut. it was the right thing to do.

Duffy Batzer said...

I always figure,I would rather be generous and taken than grumpy and rich. Even if it was a scam, she needed it for something.

Ben & Britt said...

Good for you! It's always hard to tell whether or not people are scamming you when they hit you up for money, but I always figure that even if they are lying to me I'm sure I'll get karma points somewhere along the way for helping someone else. I have also convinced myself that if they are in fact lying about their situation that karma will take care of that as well.

DiannaS said...

Kate,
I am so proud of you. That you went all the way home, got the money and came back. This is why you can always count on me to to help you if you need it. I'd rather be a generous sucker and feel good about myself.