When and Why Do You Give?

In New York, there is a cutthroat and highly competitive entrepreneurial system happening on the subways. It’s taken me a while to reign-in my cash handout tendencies, but after coming to terms with the fact that I cannot give to every person that asks for it, I’ve had to put a policy in place of no hand outs, except for food.  That is, unless I can’t help it.


Today when I took Roan and his cousin Emmie to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I couldn’t believe how alive the Subway was with commerce.  I don’t know if it is the economy or because it was a holiday today, but that thing was buzzing with activity, more than usual.  In our subway ride from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, there were these pitches for money:

  1. A kid from Bed-Stuy selling chocolate bars.  He said that he was helping to support his family from these sales.  He was probably around fifteen.
  2. A homeless man, not very clean, not very articulate.  He said something at the other end of the car that I couldn’t make out, and then shook his cup up and down the car until the next stop.
  3. A woman in her mid-thirties.  Said her home had burned down, and was carrying a piece of paper she said was the certificate from the Fire Chief.  I’ve seen this woman many times over the past year.
  4. The Subway Boys.  Ok, so these are not the same boys I wrote about before, but they have a similar routine.  I think they freaked most of the people out on the subway, but Roan was feeeeeeeling it.  They did some flips, some popping, some breaking, and one of the guys held the other upside-down so his feet were pounding on the roof of the car.  It was crazy but damn.  Those boys have some moxy.
  5. Another boy selling chocolate.  This one was possibly seven years old.  I didn’t see any adult with him.  I almost kidnapped him.
  6. A mariachi band.  I love these guys – another regular sighting for me.

I did end up shelling out a few bucks to one of these train industrialists.  I couldn’t help myself.  I’m wondering about my readers, though.  Who or what is it that finally cracks you to give a dollar or a few quarters?  I know most of us just say no like Nancy Reagan told us to (different concept but same training).  But sometimes it just happens.  When is that for you?


13 responses to “When and Why Do You Give?

  1. Living in a 3rd world country I learned to carry snack size boxes of raises and handed them out to the kids. They loved them. Somehow I don’t think it would have the same response in NY?

  2. I will usually give food if I’m carrying it. Otherwise I don’t usually give money. But, like you there are times where I just find myself offering a dollar or two, and I’m not sure why. I’d like to think my instincts can tell when it is the right thing to do.

  3. I go with instinct as well. Bare feet really tug on my heart strings because that was me 20 years ago, panhandling in a subway station to make enough for a box of mac-n-cheese.I do hate elaborate sob stories though…they reek of Budweiser and cocaine.

  4. People with kids or dogs with them. There is this man by my work with the most adorable dauchsund that he has bought a bed and jacket for. This guy is filthy but that dog is probably better taken care of than most peoples pets, I usually end up giving him a few bucks about once a week just to keep him in kibbel.

  5. I’ve also tried to rein in my giving. I do clearly remember one of the last times this homeless guy was selling newspapers in Chicago, like most of the Chicago’s homeless and it was pretty cold out and he had these ratty gloves and he just looked so sad and then this large drip of snot fell on his hands and I just felt really bad. Definately gave up my spare change for that

  6. I start the day with $1 in my pocket. Whomever I see first gets it. I live in San Diego though, so about 1/3 of the time, I come home with the $1 still in my pocket.

  7. When the bum on the corner of Colfax and Logan is holding his sign that reads “Savin up for a hooker.”

  8. I struggled with this one for a while. Finally I decided I would only give to street musicians. Unless I change my mind.

  9. I’ve returned here several times to learn about this challenge that had never crossed my mind before. Figuring out giving is hard for a lot of folks given the unremitting need. But at least I get to do the figuring out part in the comfort (!) and privacy of my own home, and not on my feet in the moment. I am in awe of city dwellers. I don’t think I could adapt, and hope I never have to find out.

  10. I usually don’t give either, especially if I can smell the booze. And especially not to the woman who has been “pregnant” since 2 summers ago and mysteriously never changed size…I do give to the guy that comes around with the big booming voice that sounds like Andre the Giant in the Princess Bride, just because I like his voice. And he’s collecting for some organization (not that I believe that, but I can be optimistic), and he always has sandwiches to give out to hungry people. And, this is the best part, after you drop change in his collection tin, he drops the Andre the Giant voice and says, “thank you sweetie, one love, one love.”I love the one love. I’m a sucker for it.

  11. I always give to musicians. Any kind. As long as they are playing an instrument, they will get my dollar.

  12. This is one of my gf favorite activities: observes cops hassling homeless, spots nearest food dispensary, ie: mcd’s, kfc, gas station with microwavable burritos, buys about $5 worth of food, returns to location of said hassling and gives away free food whilst asking that they make sure and share with they’re homeless friends and wishing the fine public servant a wonderful and safe day. She’s the best.During my childhood I was forced into indentured servitude by my school and made to sell boxes of chocolate. I hated it. Now I can’t pass them up with out buy a couple bucks worth of candy.

  13. Christine Sixteen

    I was in New Orleans last week for Mardi Gras and all that jazz. You can imagine the ridiculous number of homeless people there since Hurricane Katrina. I shelled out more money on the streets than I did for drinks on bourbon street. I am a sucker for that kind of stuff. Yea “selfless” but then i suck at life when I can’t pay bills. haha

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