Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ain’t We Got Fun(ds)?

Ain’t We Got Fun(ds)?

The “roaring” 20s foxtrot by Richard Whiting / Gus Kahn / Raymond S. Egan has captured the socio-economic mood once again:

There's nothing sure-er.
The rich get rich
And the poor get poorer.
"In the meantime, in between time, ain't we got fun!"

Not so recently, I was walking out of an expensive restaurant in Beverly Hills after a lovely dinner during which too much food was served to eat at that sitting. I left the restaurant with a doggie-bag in hand, and a few yards away, I saw a man who was begging, "Spare some change for food?" Location! Location! Location! Why sit next to a fast food joint, when it's more likely that patrons of Chez X have more bucks (and perhaps are twice as stingy!). I had no more money to give to the cause, but I offered him the contents of my take-home box. I described the menu, and he declined. Hmmmmm.

On another occasion, I encountered a youngish woman who said she needed money for food because she was pregnant and had a young daughter already. I said, "I'll think about it." And went in to drink an overpriced Italian coffee beverage.

Still another time, I passed a "homeless" woman who was a regular habitue at our local post office bench en route to my Weight Watchers "class". I often gave her some change, but had not time, yet I felt guilty about it and made a vow that if I had indeed lost weight that week, I'd give her five dollars when I left the shop. I did lose weight and when I left and pulled the Lincoln bill out of my wallet (which would otherwise have gone to the WW administrator if I didn't lose), she was no where to be seen.

I do have shame about patronizing expensive restaurants, and at the same time do give funds to a food bank, in fact, I used to provide professional fund raising and marketing services for a number of community social welfare agencies. Both of the above interactions were curious to me as a result.

On the one hand, I didn't understand why a hungry person would turn down food. On the other, I was wondering whether my charitable donations to local nonprofits were actually helping people. Finally, we realize from the Weight Watchers situation, that poverty doesn't wait for anyone. There are no conditions.

In the former case, I was told by someone who knew these things, that often people who are in need of food won't take left-overs ... would I? They have had negative experiences where the food was not palatable, looked awful, was rancid, etc. I can't say that I blame them at all.

In the latter case, en route out of the cafe, I saw the young woman still begging for funds. My conscience was bursting. I asked her if she had a quarter. I said I'd give it back to her plus $1. She gave me a quarter, without hesitating. I used it to get the phone number and address of the local food bank to which I had given a donation. (I had no change.) I wrote down their address and gave to her the quarter coin and the $1 (for bus fare to the food bank).

I later developed a set of help "hand-out" “business cards” as an organization donor "benefit" for contributors to give to those needing free emergency assistance, thereby imparting a sense that our collective work was productive and that we had a way to say “YES!”

No matter what, Don’t Forget to Ask for the Money!

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