Here in Austin you can't drive through an intersection without seeing a person holding a sign asking for money or food. And while I will gladly donate to food/meal distribution centers I just can't bring myself to hand money out the window of my car. Call me cynical but I always assume the worst, that the money will be spent on drugs, cigarettes, or alcohol. So I just keep my eyes on the road and my wallet shut.
This method of selective blindness has been working well for me but last week a new guy moved onto a corner I pass frequently. He's a young guy missing both legs, cruising around the corner during morning traffic while wearing fatigues. I've seen him a few times now and each time there's something about him that pulls at my heartstrings. I tend to keep a few dollars in my purse in case I encounter a place that doesn't accept debit cards and this morning I just about handed that cash out the window to him. I pulled up to the light, reached for my purse, and then noticed him lighting a cigarette. That simple act stopped me dead in my tracks.
Like I said, I assume the worst. If he's buying cigarettes then maybe he is making money somewhere and he isn't in as dire of a situation as I'm thinking? I mean, surely he wouldn't buy them over food, right? And if he is buying cigarettes over food, then that's a bad situation that I don't need to aid.
Being the skeptic I am, I took my hand out of my purse and kept driving. But also being an over-thinker I haven't stopped dissecting the situation. Did I over react? What if he didn't buy the cigarette, what if it came from a car. I've seen smokers hand them to people on corners, so it isn't unheard of. Am I judging the guy too harshly? If for some reason I feel compelled to give him $5 should I just give him the money and he can spend it however he wants, that part is not my concern. Or should I make a donation to a homeless shelter instead knowing they will spend it appropriately?
So friends, what say you? Should I stop being overly critical and just give the guy a few bucks or pass that money along to an organization?
For the record I realize we are talking about very little money and I would donate more to an organization than I would hand the guy, but still. I just want to feel like I'm doing some good which I realize is selfish but whatever. That feeling of "I helped, yay me! " is a big reason people donate money.