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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

insights: experiment #31- the card

Yesterday I was at Safeway watching my lemon yogurt, organic carrots, fresh Alaskan salmon and unsalted almonds being rung up and I thought of how lucky we are that we can choose what we eat from lasagne bolognese to brown rice & chicken to Doritos. We have choices. Sometimes we make good choices and sometimes they are just indulgent like Haagen-Dazs chocolate cookie dough ice cream. When I left the market I had the top down, my healthy groceries beside me and great music playing (Gotye). Driving through Seattle I saw four homeless people holding up signs asking for food, a job and/or help. One sign just said "God bless you. He blessed me." I wasn't sure if that was supposed to be ironic.

I've had some chats with friends about what you are supposed to do, what is the ethical thing to do when you encounter someone who needs help, who may have just took a few wrong turns and ended up hungry. Responses were everything from "Go buy them a meal at McDonald's" to "Nothing. They got themselves there. They can get themselves out." I thought there has to be a middle ground.

I contacted a homeless advocate center to find out what they recommend. Here is what they said:

We are all working together to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our community. It definitely takes a village to tackle the complex issues within our community as well as a variety of approaches.

A suggestion is to provide the money directly to an organization and stipulate that it is to be spent on direct services in the form of gift cards, bus tickets etc. (not administration or operations).

As a department, we value citizens like yourself who are engaged in the community and who strive to make a difference. We applaud your efforts and wish you all the best in this experiment.

I also researched Cadillac Man, a former Pepsi plant manager who found himself on the street and wrote a book about his struggles called "Land of the Lost Souls." When asked in an interview by Erik Bryan in "The Morning News" what the public can do, here is what he said:

Cadillac Man: By donations to soup kitchens, clothing donations, anywhere where the finances go more directly to the clients. Too much goes toward administrative costs and other hidden agendas. Also, the public could be better educated about who we are and why we are here. They often believe they live far removed from our way of life, but in fact they do not. Losing everything could happen to anyone at any time.

Here is what I decided: That to be a better person, to be a happier person it's key to think outside yourself. In fact, I think that this is so important that I am going to extend this week's experiment to a month. Each week for the next four weeks I am going to cut coupons, read the market circulars for deals and at the end of each order I am going to buy a gift card in the amount of the savings (at least $10.) Each week I'll donate (anonymously if possible) one card to someone who needs it, to help feed them, their kids or their dog. By giving someone a giftcard to a grocery store instead of a fast food fix, this will hopefully empower someone to make his own choices, to choose what makes him happy in a small way even in the worst of circumstances.

What if just 1% of people who read this blog do this? What if you did this?

Change starts with one person, right?



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