Why I Give to Beggars (and think you probably should too)

I've both worked with homeless people through drop-in centers and street ministry and been homeless myself as a young woman.  I've panhandled (quite successfully) with a sign that said "kick a bum for a buck", eaten in soup kitchens, and heard the heart breaking stories of countless men, women, and youth living on the streets. And until last year I didn't have an answer for whether or not to give to people who beg on the street.  I did give, often out of a sense of guilt or compassion, but I was never sure that it was the right thing to do.


Then one ordinarily hectic Sunday morning on the way to Starbucks to get our caffeine fix before church, rushing with our van load of children to arrive on time, yelling from the front seat for someone to put their shoes back on and to stop fighting over the hair brush we brought along because we never ever ever manage to get everybody's hair brushed before the frantic, barely shod rush out the front door, we saw a man with a sign asking for money and thought of stopping . My husband and I both  thought of it.  But we didn't.  And that day in the service, which I am certain was very interesting, I didn't hear a word of what the pastor said because God was breaking my heart.


If I arrive at church on Sunday morning, wearing my most convincing soccer-mom-who-has-it-all-together outfit, with my slew of children all groomed nicely and a three dollar coffee in my hand, but failed to help the person in need along the way? I have really, really missed the point. 

I bawled all the way home that day.

We've since committed to give something to every panhandler we see.  Here's why:

1. Jesus says to give to those who ask of us. (Matthew 5:42) He doesn't say to give  to  those who deserve it, those who are trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, those who will spend it wisely, but just to give.  Do we have to give just money? Of course not.  We could give a meal, a gift card, a listening ear, hope, prayer, words of encouragement, warm socks, these blessing bags, hand knitted gloves or a hot cup of coffee.  But walking past without giving anything to somebody in need who is asking for help?  Frankly? Scripturally it is just not an option.

2. It offers them some dignity.  You and I get to decide what we have for lunch, whether to splurge on a latte or just get an ordinary coffee and save a few bucks.  It is true that those in need can sometimes get  a meal at drop-in centers and urban missions, but people deserve to be able to make independent decisions. I would love to afford someone a little bit of dignity today.

3. Meeting their perceived needs frees up time to meet their actual needs.   I've heard the same argument countless times: "They are just going to spend the money on drugs".  Maybe it is true.  Some of them will.  I did.  But if this person is going to sit in the cold and wind and rain until they have enough money to not start detoxing in the street, then I am happy to help them meet that goal quicker so that they can go get themselves warm and fed and cared for. 

4. Panhandling is hard work.  There's nothing glamorous about sitting on the pavement and asking people for money.  There's nothing fun about being spat on, kicked, ignored and sworn at by passersby.  People who aren't in need don't subject themselves to this.  If somebody is willing to subject them self to the elements and the judgements of certain human beings then I can certainly put a few bucks in their cup.

5. I don't want to miss the opportunity to feed Christ himself.  This is the big one, right? Jesus tells us that when we serve the needy we do it for him. (Matthew 25:31-40) I would like to think I would never walk past Jesus, scared to make eye contact in case he asks something of me.  But so many of us do it every single day.  I would rather give to a thousand con artists than walk past one person truly in need and fail  to help them. I don't want to be guilty of ignoring Jesus anymore.

6. It's humbling.  Truth is, we only have our needs met because God has made it possible. The ability to work and earn income is a blessing from the hand of God.  The fact that our own struggles and hurts and choices haven't left us on the sidewalk in desperate need is the grace of God in our lives and nothing else.  Giving up a small portion of our income is a reminder that we would have nothing if it were not for the grace of God in our lives, which, honestly, is a reminder I need sometimes.

We are all in need.  And most of us aren't willing to write our needs on a piece of cardboard and ask for help. I think people who do are stronger and braver than we realize.

7. I want my children to see me giving.  I want them to see me excited to give and help. I want them to  know that it is okay to look homeless people in the eye.  I want them to know that we only have our needs met because God has made it so. When in doubt I want them to err on the side of giving.

8.  Drop-in centers and homeless missions can be difficult places to be (and aren't always open).  The other argument I hear often is that we shouldn't give to homeless people because there are community resources available to help them.  And I love that those community resources exist and I don't want to be critical of the centers themselves because they are doing a good work the best they can.  But so many individuals in need have been hurt, abused, or judged at these centers by other guests or the volunteers themselves that we can't assume that every person we see on the street could just go get a sandwich and a bowl of  soup if they need it. Some of them can't, for very legitimate reasons. 

Also, these often volunteer run programs aren't open 24/7.  Being able to get a meal during very specific hours, 2 or even 5 days a  week is better than nothing, but it isn't enough.

9. I would want people to give to me if I was in that position.  In fact, I did. If you were in such need that you were begging on a street corner, how would you like people to respond to  you?

10. I never again want to arrive on time for church on Sunday morning with a Starbucks coffee in hand, and know that I drove past someone in need to make it happen.  Never. The Lord broke my heart that day and I am so glad he did.

Friends, be free to give. Your hands brushing as you pass a five dollar bill to that man in need might be the only touch he receives all day. You might be the first person all morning to make eye contact with him, to smile at him.  Your prayer for that homeless youth might be the first prayer ever silently spoken for her.  Be free to give.

But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. -1 John 3:17-18


How do you feel about giving to the homeless?  Leave your comments below, but please keep them kind and respectful (or they may, ahem, mysteriously disappear!) 

47 comments:

  1. Beautifully written. I have really struggled with this issue. My husband and I are to point where we usually try to go buy a meal when we see someone, and sometimes I ask, "Do you need anything else?" but this makes me feel more comfortable giving cash if I feel the urge. You're right, I would want someone to give it to me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for sharing this today!! I pass by people in need far too often, your words are very challenging.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ten million percent, I agree. I've thought the exact same thing. Once I saw a man panhandling outside a grocery store, and I asked him about his story and if I could grab him a few things in the store. We went in and got him 5 or 6 bags of groceries, including what he asked for: milk and socks, maybe some fruit... - and oh my GOSH it was probably the best day of my life. I don't share this to be braggy... but just to say that it honestly was the best feeling of my life - I felt like I had been given the opportunity to serve Jesus in the flesh, and it was uh-mazing. I've dropped change into homeless people's cups too, and I fully agree with the reasoning you've given. Loved it. Beautiful new site - BTW - congrats :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow! Just wow. I will never look at helping someone in need the same way again. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great reminder. I feel the same way, and want to help when and where I can.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love this post.
    As someone who has been there, what do you think is best to give? What is most useful? Money or little kits with practical items or food or something else?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It really depends on the situation. Whatever you give will be appreciated! :)

      Delete
  7. Thanks Kelly, this has been on my heart for a number of months now. Thanks for opening our eyes of why we give. Thank you again.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks Kelly-that was very powerful and thought provoking.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This was so beautiful. It addressed so many personal excuses I had and touched my heart. I've been of the 'don't give money cause they probably wont use it right' mentality, but your words helped inspire me. "I would rather give to a thousand con artists than walk past one person truly in need and fail to help them." It's so true. And now, for me, it simply boils down to the fact that God has asked us to love one another and help others, so at least you are doing that - how people use what you give them will not impact you negatively if you have given with a loving heart. I'm still not a huge fan of giving money, but I will try and do better at giving what I do feel comfortable with. Thanks :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you for this. This has been on my heart lately. Often, I don't have anything to give or I don't know if they will use it on drugs or I have the kids with me and I am afraid of getting attacked. I've been thinking of putting together baggies with gloves, some healthy snack food, a small Bible or track, info on our Christian soup kitchen/shelter, and a few other items. I want to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity rather than getting nervous and not having anything to offer. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Love this, and the new site. Thanks for sharing your heart.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I do agree with giving when you can. I don't usually carry cash on me, but I almost always have my food stamps card in my purse. That's the thing: I'm not a fan of giving money, but if someone's hungry, I'll spend as much as it takes to send them away with as much food as they can carry. Although, the pushy and abusive ones... they're a lot harder to force yourself to deal with...

    On another note, the new site looks good!! To Facebook I go!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I very much agree with you. I remember one day I spent a good chunck of money getting clothes at the mall. Then as I was driving home I saw a woman with a sign needing money. I felt the urge to stop, but I didn't. I felt so ashamed afterward, and promised myself I would never turn anyone else in need away if I was able. I wish I always remembered to keep cash or gift cards on me so I can help someone. I especially appreciate how you pointed out that if I were in that same situation I would want people to give too. That is SO true and I had never thought about it that way before. I am so thankful for your insightful posts. I'm looking forward to reading this new blog! :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. While I will give a beggar groceries, a list of shelters, and even the clothes off my back if they are in need, I have to vehemently disagree with the giving of cash to beggars as a practice.

    The Lord has asked us for our tithes and we do pay our full tithe before anything else. Even my 7 year old tithes her small allowance. In addition, we donate clothes, toys, food and our time to local organizations. In doing so we are giving to Christ himself.

    Of course, every situation is different and needs to be assessed according to our best judgment. Those who still want to give money but are wary of that money being used to buy drugs or alcohol: ask your local law enforcement about the circumstances of those you see out panhandling. They’ll know who is truly in need.

    ReplyDelete
  15. A couple years ago on vacation I stopped at a rest area where 2 women had a sign asking for money or food. I had food, which I gladly shared with them, and then made my way over to a picnic table and ate my own lunch. Immediately upon getting in the car to continue on, I was hit by the question 'why didn't you eat with them?' It had never even crossed my mind, but I can imagine that sitting and joining them would have changed my life, and brought some dignity to them as well.

    ReplyDelete
  16. What a great post, Kelly. I always give to the homeless because I can't stand to think they will go hungry, and you've given all the reasons above why. If they do buy alcohol or drugs with money donated, they would do that anyway. They'd find a way. But hopefully, they'll have a warm meal instead. Also, we never know if that one donation could save their life as they might just want it to make that phone call for help. There are so many people out there with a mental illness or acquired brain injury and they some live on the streets because they have no choice. There is nowhere else for them to go. It's also hard for the families of missing people, and they get some comfort knowing there are people out there like you, Kelly, that will give them some help. Bless you. ♥

    ReplyDelete
  17. Kelly, I love your reasoning AND the blessing bags you linked to! I am so excited to go make some this weekend. I have been struggling with how to give for a long time as I almost never have cash on me. My husband and I are also just getting started so we don't have a lot of extra money to give. The blessing bags seem like a great way to show you care and give a little comfort immediately without stretching our budget farther than we could handle. Thank you for sharing this!

    ReplyDelete
  18. I always have some water bottles in my car (for emergencies or whatever), and I always like to give one of those--and make eye contact and smile--when I can.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Water bottles...that's a great idea!

      Delete
  19. Enjoyed this well constructed list and feel similar heart tugs about giving and priorities in hustling to get to church events. Thanks for reminding us that everyone person on the street matters, and may be Christ himself.

    JP
    marriagepursuit.com

    ReplyDelete
  20. A wonderful thought provoking post. I give whenever I can, living where we do we don't see many folk asking for help, so when I do see anyone I really try to give something. Pay It Forwards coffees are always a good idea too if the coffee shop does them :-)

    ReplyDelete
  21. I always have a hard time because if where we are, my dear friend felt a similar tug and decided to go bring a guy that was asking for food or money a burger and the guy the it back at her saying all I wanted was money. . . Being in the metropolis I had been thinking that making up blessing bags with a 5 or whatever cash hidden in the middle might be the best way to help someone truly seeking help. . . That being said my husband and I still constantly find ourselves emptying the coins out of the car ash tray or bottoms of purses and pockets for people, I too personally feel that the Lord should be the guide always. . . He will prompt, he will tell you who he wants you to help. . . Living in a metro area if I stopped for every bum I saw, I would never get to where I was going or have anything left to give! (cars only got one ash tray!)

    ReplyDelete
  22. Great post! A couple areas of additional consideration;
    ASK THEM THEIR NAME! Then remember it! You will see them again (and again, and again, and again ...). You can (and must!) pray for them personally. Some of the neighborhood chronically needy in my area (and there are more than a few) I count among my friends. Their problems are more complex and profound than I can cure in my weakness and limitations. But, I find amazing depth in these "strugglers" who endure things I never have, and probably couldn't bear.
    Also, when you give them something, ASK THEM TO PRAY FOR YOU! The prayers of the smallest child, the humblest beggar and the weakest granny are the most powerful prayers on the planet! Some of the church fathers actually speak of this too. The rich have an incumbent duty and ministry to share the goods the Lord has leant to them, and it teaches them generosity, freeing them from the idolatry of covetousness and greed. The poor have an incumbent duty and ministry to pray for those who share with them these goods, and to PRAY for them in gratitude and humility, knowing that God has blessed them through these givers.
    May the Lord help us all (especially stony-hearted me) to play our part in this dance of mutual service and humble love in the Spirit of our loving God! Lord have mercy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Douglas for your beautiful comment!

      Delete
  23. Lovely post! I just read in a magazine a suggestion to give out small wrapped Christmas gifts. I don't have much money to spare since I live on Social Security but I thought I might get some small boxes, put candy inside and something small, like maybe a chapstick, and wrap in Christmas paper to have in my car to hand out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a lovely idea!!! I think I will follow your lead! :-)

      Delete
  24. Thank you for this Kelli. You covered all points and put it so well. I have often wondered the same things, whether to give or not, does that person really need it??? And as I'm considering, Jesus comes to my mind as well - especially the times I do not give. I will give, from now on, even if I only have 50 cents in my purse with me. And make eye contact, and say a prayer for that person. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hey there. I was trying to use the link on your sidebar to follow via email and it gave me an error that your feed isn't enabled to subscribe via email... Just thought I'd let you know that it doesn't seem to be working. =]

    Runt
    runtspickins@yahoo.com
    www.runtspickins.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
  26. Excellent article, I agree 150%! By the way, I tried to follow by email and I get this message: The feed does not have subscriptions by email enabled...so you might want to change that:) God bless sister...keep up the great work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I have the subscription problem fixed now. Thanks for letting me know!

      Delete
  27. Great post! I've been thinking about this a lot lately too. We're making those blessing bags for Thanksgiving.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. By the way have you read the book "Not a Fan" by Kyle Idleman? Love it. The "Scandalous grace" in your title, for some reason, combined with this blog post reminded me of a quote from the book. I don't have it with me (it is on my now-broken Kindle...sniff sniff), but he is talking about when the prostitute washes Jesus's feet and then rubs them with oil. He says "But she is so focused on Jesus that she forgets about herself. She is desperate to express the love and affection she feels for him. What she does next is reckless, it's impulsive, it's inappropriate, and it's exactly the kind of follower Jesus wants."

      Delete
  28. Thank you thank you thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  29. You state, "You and I get to decide what we have for lunch, whether to splurge on a latte or just get an ordinary coffee and save a few bucks." But some of us don't. Some of us have to decide not to eat lunch because it means that we can keep the heat on for our kids this winter, or send them to school with lunch tomorrow. Living in a big city, I walk past at least ten homeless people every day, all of them calling for help. By not giving to each one, am I "guilty of ignoring Jesus?" I don't have the money to give, and if I give time to each of them, that is time taken away from caring for the family at home that I'm responsible for. Do I care about the homeless? Of course. My heart breaks when I see them. But my heart breaks even more picturing my children in that position, so I will live with the "guilt of ignoring Jesus."

    ReplyDelete
  30. I give, too, every week after mass to a 'bum' who plays a recorder (often of hymns we just sang so I know he's listening in). I also make sure I shake his hand (how many lost people get the blessing of touch?). And as to your #6, yes--but what about 'entertaining angels unaware'? I have a strong feeling my guy is an angel and my husband has directions to take care of him should anything ever happen to me.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Thanks for your honesty! A beautiful blog post, and it reminds me of a conversation I had with my husband a few weeks ago after I gave some money to a homeless man... I decided to get a few $10 gift cards to a coffee shop/ restaurant centrally located in town to keep in my car to give to homeless people... they can get a coffee, lunch, or whatever else they need at that moment. Have you read "Under the Overpass"? My colleague lent it to me last year, and I found it incredibly humbling and convicting.

    ReplyDelete
  32. This blog post is why YOU give to beggars. It doesn't mean that everyone should ... it's important to know that this kind of thing is a personal issue that should be in between a person and God, and that person and God only. Maybe God will tell you in your heart that you should give to every beggar you see, maybe He won't. If you live in big city like I do, I'd say it would be pretty radical to give to every single beggar you come across. But really, that would be none of my business, anyway.

    Along those lines, there was a comment on here about somehow who said they couldn't afford to give to beggars, and didn't have the time to spend with them. I strongly believe that if God wanted you to give to a homeless person/beggar, then He would in turn provide.

    This is something that my College and Career group has been dealing with, as we've formed groups to go out and minister to a certain street where a lot of homeless people do hang out. While we don't give money, we do hand out granola bars, water and bus tickets, and often talk to them and pray with them.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I applaud your compassion and generosity, Kelly, and for your desire to fulfill the kind of practical love that Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 (to feed the hungry, visit the sick, etc.). But my prayer is that as representatives of Christ, our love would 'grow with all discernment,' in the words of the Apostle Paul. For this same apostle gave instructions to the church in Thessalonica not to give food to someone who refused to work. When Peter and John helped the beggar at the gate called Beautiful, they responded to a legitimate need - a lame man who was unable to work. And through the act of healing him they enabled him to go out and labor and take care of his own material needs. In like fashion, instead of handing out money or food to the panhandlers, I have created little cards with my photo, my email address and my cell phone, and a short note "to my homeless friend." In this note I offer my time and resources to help them get one or two interviews for a job, based on the kind of work they have done in the past. I tell them that I am an amputee myself, and yet I was able to find work and provide for myself and my family. So I try to encourage them in this way, but still honor the principle of Paul that I not contribute financially to those who prefer handouts rather than work.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I just found you and I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  35. I just wanted to say that I too want to give to everyone I see but where I live there is one man who stands out and begs money at the highway intersection all the time and i don't think he needs it. I am not trying to judge, it's just that my husbands' boss has stopped and offered the man a job and he refused and said he only needed the money. He has also been given food and hid it up in the overpass and just wants only money. That is someone who should be ashamed of himself. It makes me weary of who I am giving to now. I hate to feel that way but you know the saying,' one bad apple spoils the barrel." Anyhow, God Bless you and your family and please keep the good stories coming they are helpful and fun to read. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    ReplyDelete
  36. When the apostle Paul said if they don't work they neither shall they eat he was talking to the congregation of early Christians in Thessalonians. He mentions that there were some whom were walking around being busy bodies. I assume that these busy bodies were not doing their share and working with the group as they should have been. He never mentioned homeless or poor people or people who are not physically or mentally able to take care of themselves. I realized a long time ago that most of the people who are referred to as bums have some form me of mental disability.

    ReplyDelete
  37. "The ability to work and earn income is a blessing from the hand of God. The fact that our own struggles and hurts and choices haven't left us on the sidewalk in desperate need is the grace of God in our lives and nothing else. " Yes YES YES!!!!! So much gratitude. Thank you for sharing your beautiful, honest story.

    I have a bag of my grandpa's old coats and sweaters (he's passed on) and I'm suddenly remembering all the people I've seen begging in the past week. Today a man had a sign that said 'Cold. Please help.'
    Thank you. Your strength in speaking the truth that some might not want to hear has decided my heart and warmed it, too, on an issue I'd also long-struggled with. I'm praying that anyone who truly needs to be holding that same sign (Cold, please help) whether it is metaphorical, emotional, physical, whatever... that we will all get the help and blessing that we need, to be Christ for one another.
    Blessings and love to you.

    ReplyDelete
  38. I followed a rabbit trail through blogland this morning and ended up here! Yes, yes, and yes! Yes, I give which isn't usually much as I don't carry a lot of cash with me. But I always keep a few dollars in the car in case. I have had conversations with women at bible studies, who have made comments that they should just get a job because it would be easier. But they fail to think about the fact that you have to have an address to get a job. Really, I was quite surprised at their lack of compassion and judgement. If God prompts me to give to someone on the street, it may be for my benefit just as much as for theirs. It's not my place to pass judgment on what they will spend the money on, it's just not. And you are so right, when we give, what ever the amount, it says to them I see you, I care. I have in the past kept a large ziplock bag filled with travel size toiletries, and a pair of socks in the car with me, so that at the right moment I have it to give. I have known so many people who claim to be Christians, who know all the verses by heart but leave church on Sunday morning knowing not about how to apply it to everyday living. People don't let their hearts be broken, because then they would have to do something about it. Thank you for sharing this!

    ReplyDelete
  39. The way I see it, if someone needs and I have it to give and don't that's on me---but if I give like I should and that person uses it for drugs or alcohol, that's on them. They have to answer for their actions same as I do........I mean, that's really what life is all about is accountability. We are accountable for whether we give or not, whether we try to enjoy this life we've been given and be thankful for what we have especially when others have not.

    ReplyDelete