There was a debate earlier this month on NextDoor, a social media app for neighbors, after one individual reported seeing a panhandler in a south metro community. “Sad,” they said. Back and forth the debate went on whether panhandlers were homeless people in need or people taking advantage of neighbors who give. Each debater had their point of view, as you expect they would.
Probably what surprised me most about the engagement regarding panhandlers is that people would assume that individuals who are panhandling could not possibly be from around here. With a May unemployment rate hovering at 9.9% in Minnesota, it is quite possible that people looking for help are neighbors, too.
Unfortunate things happen to good people all the time. A sudden job loss may lead to food deprivation, a lack of transportation and communication resources that make it difficult to get a new job, and homelessness.
True, it is sad and uncomfortable to encounter a person or family panhandling on the side of the road. It is sad and uncomfortable to see a car full of belongings parked in a parking lot, an indication that it might be a person’s entire life in that car and where they sleep at night. I have always struggled not knowing what I should do to help. Should I give them money? Should I say something? Should I even make eye contact?
A few years ago, a faith group I belong to began a mission that creates a kit full of goodness that can be handed to any person seeking help on the street corner. These packets are part of a larger initiative called “love in the glovebox” that meets people where they are — standing at the stoplight, asking for help.
The kits contain things like granola bars, athletic socks, toothbrush and toothpaste and a gift card for a fast-food restaurant. We make the kits as a group, then take a couple for ourselves to have in our glovebox. When you are making the kits, you never know where they will end up. You never know whose life the kit could save on that day because you’ve given hope.
The last kit I gave away was courtesy of some youth from one of the area schools. They had made them as a class service project for our faith community to distribute.
On Wednesday, March 11, I came up to a turn where there was a man with a guitar. His sign said, “Hungry and cold.” I quickly grabbed the kit the students had made, added a few dollars to the bag, looked him in the eye and handed him the kit through my car window as I wished him well.
What I am learning from participating in this ministry is that it is hard to look people in the eyes and meet people on the street. However, I am growing. It is more difficult to do nothing.