Saturday, March 27, 2010

Away from Blogging for a Week

With the beginning of Holy Week, I will be taking a week off from blogging so as to spend as much time as possible in prayer, which, in reality, will be considerably less than usual and certainly far less than I would like.

Unfortunately, I cannot take a week off from traveling and am sad that I will be on a plane between Ohio and Texas Thursday evening, which means that I will miss Maundy Thursday Mass, which is one of my favorites. (The year that Fr. Greg, a priest assigned to our parish on an interim basis, was here, 2007, I was one of the 12 whose feet he washed; then he asked the 12 of us to wash the feet of everyone in the church -- it took a long time, but it was a very good experience for everyone.)

I even have to work on Good Friday this year. Usually I can manage my schedule so that I can get off work. Fortunately, the senior manager I am traveling with is also Catholic, and I have charged him with finding us a Mass in San Antonio. I hear that there is a wonderful cathedral near the Alamo. (He is reliable; we have attended Mass together during our required travels in Korea and in Germany at churches that he has tracked down.) I have told our San Antonio branch that once we know the time of Mass, they will have to work my meetings around that time. I will be back early Saturday afternoon, in time for Easter vigil at Old Mission, which is where I really prefer to be -- in my little town which one visitor once called "namolein" (Russian: "saturated in prayer").

I will be back after Easter, and I wish all of you a wonderful, blessed week and as much time as you want to spend with God.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cell Phones for Haiti

An interesting project came to my attention in recent days: a project to provide free cell phones to Red Cross workers and others who need them in Haiti. Recellular will refurbish donated phones and send them to those who need them in Haiti; where they cannot be reburbished, Recelllular will donate their value to Haiti. Here is the introductory blurb on the Phones for Haiti site:

There are an estimated 130 million phones retired in the United States every year. If even a small percentage of them are donated to Phones for Haiti, it would contribute millions of dollars towards relief from the devastating earthquake. ReCellular will give 100% of the phone value as a contribution to the American Red Cross. In addition, qualifying phones will be refurbished and supplied to aid groups working in Haiti. All phones are accepted, though newer phones will provide the most value to the charity — in some cases $100 or more.

Check it out! It might be a way to help and eliminate some of your clutter at the same time.

(Image from ReCellular site. Photo by Talia Frenkel/American Red Cross)

Monday, March 15, 2010

How to Panhandle

I came across this wikihow that teaches people the do's and don't's of panhandling. I am reprinting here from the wikihow (am sure that the author won't mind because it was put out for public sharing and education) because it gives some interesting insights into the panhandling world, situation, and mind. My comments follow the article.

A panhandler is a person who depends on the spontaneous charity of strangers for his/her survival. In some parts of the world, begging is the only alternative to starvation, especially in the context of a poor economy or an oppressive government; in other parts of the world, panhandling is illegal because of its association with addiction and irresponsibility. You never know when you might have to ask strangers for help, whether you've been mugged in a foreign land and need enough money to make it home, life deals you a particularly harsh hand of cards (like abuse, disability, illness, war); or you become so dissatisfied with your existing options that begging seems like a better alternative.


(1) Swallow your pride. Most people find it difficult to quietly beg for money from friends or relatives. It’s even harder to beg from complete strangers where everybody can see you. Still, you’re going to have to suck it up and be humble. If you've already exhausted the alternatives and begging is your last resort, it may help to keep in mind that in many countries, begging does not hold the stigma it does in most of the Western World, and in some places asking for alms is considered an honorable profession.

(2) Remember what you're offering. People who give you enough money do so because it makes them feel good. A person is more likely to help you if they can identify with you, and if they feel their contribution will make a significant difference in your situation. Sometimes, people give alms for religious reasons, and other times because they feel guilty for having been born with so much more than others without having necessarily earned it. The more you learn about why people give, the better you'll be at receiving.

(3) Clean up. Before you begin, make an effort to look presentable. You certainly don’t want to be smelling of alcohol, for example, but you also should comb your hair, practice overall good hygiene, and dress in clean, but cheap clothes. If you stand out, people are more likely to give you money. Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers so you don’t get too warm or cold. You want to present an image of a hard-working, normal person who is just like the people from whom you are asking for money, except that you’re a little down on your luck.

(4) Make a sign. A simple sign on a piece of cardboard makes you more noticeable and tells your story—it’s advertising, plain and simple. Remember, you want to make people feel good for giving you money, so give them a reason: you just got laid off, you’ve got a family to feed, etc., and you need help. Tell your story concisely, and make your sign in neat, large letters. Make sure the letters are bold enough to read.

(5) Find a suitable location. Location is all-important to a successful begging endeavor, and the most important facet of location is traffic. The more traffic you can get, the better. There are two general approaches to location: you can target foot traffic or automobile traffic, but usually not both.

(6) Smile and greet people courteously. You'd be surprised how far a simple, unassuming smile will go. Smiles are welcoming, and put people at ease. Especially in the U.S., people generally appreciate a positive attitude. Then again, remember that you’re down on your luck, and you may want to play it a bit differently. Regardless of your approach, say "hello" or “good morning” to people and make an effort to notice them politely—they’ll be more likely to do the same to you.

(7) Ask for money directly and softly. You may assume that people know you want money, and most people do, but you’ve still got to work for it. Ask passersby nicely and in a quiet voice—they’ll have to listen more carefully and may slow down, and you’ll also appear less aggressive. Have something to put money in: a cup, a cap, a guitar case, a pan, etc. This makes it easier for people to quickly drop some change in. Empty it regularly so people—both customers and potential crooks—can't see how much you’re bringing in.

(8) Remember the names of your regulars. If you frequent a certain location, make an effort to remember the people who give you money. You probably won’t get a chance to know them by name (although you may), but you can recognize their faces and any distinguishing characteristics—for example, a person may carry an umbrella every day, even when it’s not raining—and give them a special greeting. Maybe even give certain regulars endearing nicknames if you don’t know their real names.

(9) Thank everyone. If someone gives you money, show your appreciation. Even when people don’t give you money, thank them (implicitly) just for listening, and wish them a good day. Doing so will make them think twice about refusing your request next time they pass you.

- reprinted from Wikihow

Here are my comments to the steps given above:

(1) I think we, who are the alms givers not the alms receivers, think mostly about our own emotional state. I wonder if we consider how difficult it must be for panhandlers, at least for the sincere ones who are truly in desperate straits, to ask for help from total strangers in public places and how awkward and worthless they must feel when few people will even speak to them, let alone look at them. Fr. Christian (Blessed Is the Kingdom) recently published an interesting poem on this subject written by Ellen Palmer in the 1990s called "Eyes." It is very much worth the time it takes to click on the link and read that sensitive and touching poem.

(2) Likewise, the more we learn about the people to whom we give money, the easier it is to give to them. That is why I like carrying God's credit card with me so that I can take someone to lunch, fill their tank with gas, or help them out in more personal ways, ways in which I can get to know a little bit about them.

3) When I put in the effort to get to know someone to whom I am giving alms (obviously, this is not always impossible and really is the exception rather than the rule), I almost always discover that we have something in common.

(4) I wonder how good this advice is. I do find those signs helpful if I am just driving into or out of a parking lot. However, I often hesitate in those situations, not knowing whether the person is "for real" or not even though it is not up to me to make that determination. I never hesitate when someone approaches me person to person on the street or in the parking lot with a specific request. What do you think?

(5) I guess I am more likely to get involved in the foot traffic location, but perhaps that is because I love to get involved: get to know the person, buy something for them, eat lunch together, or just sit and pass the time of day or listen to their stories. To do that in an auto traffic area would be very difficult -- I would have to notice, not hesitate (my bane), go park, and return. That requires greater deliberation on my part and less spontaneity and is therefore less likely to happen. On the other happen, I imagine that penny for penny, it might result in more income for the panhandler. I guess it depends on what it is specifically they need and why.

(6) This works both ways. Even if I do not have any change with me or time to stop and help, in my experience, saying "hello" makes both of us feel better. After all, would we not say "hello" to any other individual we might pass by. Why should panhandlers deserve any less courtesy?

(7) Good advice and not necessarily superfluous. If I know what someone wants money for, I could sometimes help in ways that they don't anticipate. For example, once Donnie had someone ask for money outside our local grocery store. He said he wanted to buy breakfast. Donnie bought him breakfast, and the two sat and ate at one of the cafe tables outside, California being a state of perpetual spring. Then he learned that one of the things that the panhandler was collecting money for was a cell phone because he had friends who could tell him where day jobs in our local agricultural economy were available at the last minute because someone was ill for the day; even though there was not a full time job opening, he was able to go and harvest for the day. Without a cell phone, however, he could not find out about these opportunities in time. Donnie told him to stay put; then he returned to our house only one minute away. (In San Ignatio, everything is only one minute away by car.) He returned with a spare cell phone that we no longer needed because we had upgraded and gave it to the panhandler, whose name, I believe, was Dick.

(8) Good advice. Getting to know a panhandler by name is helpful to both giver and receiver and can build a relationship. For a number of weeks, Donnie, who works at home and loves to take his daily breakfast at the cafe of our local grocery store, would thereafter meet Dick for breakfast every morning that Dick did not get a call to work. Over time, Dick was absent more and more, and finally, one day, Dick told Donnie he would not be able to meet for breakfast any more because he had just gotten a full-time job in the fields!

(9) An attitude of gratitude is good for everyone. I also thank panhandlers for sharing themselves with me, for trusting me with their stories, and for letting me help them. The rewards of alms giving go in two directions -- and maybe even in more than two directions.

I am curious as to your reactions to these "instructions." Comments?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Please, God, Give Me Another Chance!

Saturday morning during my start-of-the-day prayer time, the thought that we would be spending a significant portion of the day in Santa Clara with Doah, including going out to lunch together, floated into my head, and I asked God to send me someone to help. (I was thinking about the H2 Hunger challenge: take a homeless & hungry person to lunch or dinner and get to know the person as an individual.) It had been some time since I have had that kind of opportunity, so I asked for Saturday to be the day that it happened again.

As Donnie and I headed out to lunch with Doah, I had a very specific scenario in mind: someone panhandling, asking for lunch money. Prior to lunch, I wanted to run into Kohl's to look for a new outfit since I have lost enough weight that most of my clothes do not fit properly. As we drove into the parking lot of a shopping mall where we had never been before, having set the GPS to find the store for us, I saw a man with a card on the exiting side of the entrance into which we were driving. Could this be our lunch partner, I wondered and mentally made plans to check for him after we finished at Kohl's and before heading to Roundtable Pizza, the sign for which we had noticed upon driving into the parking lot.

My errand at Kohl's took longer than I thought because I could find nothing appropriate or that fit. Finally, I gave up. By then both Doah and Donnie were hungry. We looked around for the pizza place, but it did not seem to be anywhere near its sign but on the other side of the very large parking lot -- large enough that we had to drive there. I glanced at where the panhandler had been standing, and he was not there. Hm...

Well, there was nothing to be done about that. We went into Roundtable, ordered some rather run-of-the-mill pizza, ate it, and left.

We left the parking lot through a different exit, one with a street that had a light at the end of the block. At the end of the block, by the light, there stood the panhandler who had been at the other exit when we entered a couple of hours earlier. That took me by surprise. He held a card that said "Hello, peace be with you. Please help. God bless."

This did not fit with the image I had had in my head. I had expected to find him before lunch and take him to lunch, not hand him money. Moreover, he looked like he was not desperate, like he did not even really need any money. Although I had no change with me, I did have a spare $10 bill in the car visor that we used for emergency cash, but I hesitated to hand it over. I was focused on the way I had planned on helping, not on this new scenario.

The light stayed red a very long time. I was able not only to think about the situation but also to talk about it.

Doah spoke up. "Belle [the woman in charge of his group home] says not to give my money away." Of course, she says that. He gets very little pin money from SSI and only about $5 a week from his sheltered workshop duties. Nonetheless, he would give all of it away. I have seen him do it. So, Belle was only looking out for Doah's interests in telling him that.

While I was debating whether to be charitable to this man or not, the person in the car behind me held out a dollar bill, and the man walked over to accept it. Well, at least someone helped, I thought.

Before I had time to consider any further, the light turned green, and Donnie drove off. As we left the area, I realized, too late, that this may very well have been the person in need that I asked God put in my path. Why, otherwise, would he appear in the spot where we entered and then reappear in the very different spot where we exited? And why would the light stay red such a very long time? I was so focused on the lunch option, on my plan, that I did not think soon enough about forking over our $10 emergency gas cash. Yet, somehow, I think that is exactly what I was supposed to do, like the people in the car behind us did, setting an example that I did not follow.

I do not know why I hesitated although I could make some guesses. A small part of the reason probably was the influence of Belle's words although they really did not apply in this situation. Another small part of the reason may be something that occasionally (actually, too frequently) causes me to hesitate: I wonder if the panhandler will use the money for bad things, not good things (but I know it should not be up to me to make that judgment). The biggest part, the important piece, I finally realized is that I was so focused on my plan that I probably totally missed God's plan.

I immediately felt miserable; I felt like I had failed God. Actually, I think I did fail God. So, now I am begging God to give me another chance -- and really hoping that I won't blow it the next time.

As I was writing this post -- I started it on Sunday -- I came across a post that helped me see the situation in a different light and thus to react differently. That post was written by Fr. Christian Mathis (Blessed Is the Kingdom -- a site that is on my blogroll because I find many of the posts insightful and educative) and titled Still Hoping for Failure.

Fr. Christian had written:
"May we not let our own failures to follow Christ get in the way of our faithfulness to Him. We don’t have to be perfect Christians. It is enough to simply ask for mercy when we need it and remember that love never fails."

So now, I am going to ask for mercy, forgive myself, and beg God for another chance. (I am also going to start carrying McDonald's gift cards because that way I might not be as likely to hesitate. It seems that I may have to protect myself against my own second guessings if I want to do any good in this world.)

Note: Simultaneously published on Blest Atheist and H2 Helper.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Food Banks in Crisis

"Be a hunger hero," says a food bank in Michigan.

The following information was brought to my attention by Lynn (Life According to the Wall Street Redneck's Wife) from Michigan. Gleaner's Food Bank needs your help! Michigan, especially the Flint and Detroit areas have been hit very hard by the tough economy and the break down of the automobile industry. Michigan is suffering from the highest rates of unemployment in the USA. This rise in the unemployment rate, which has yet according to ABC News this morning to peak, has caused a rise in the number of families needing help with basic necessities such as food and housing.

Just last week, at the Bible Studies class I attend, one of the participants, Tom, who assists at a food bank in Hollister, California (yes, unfortunately, the home town of the recent Pentagon shooter), told of the difficult situation there, with significant shortfalls in contributions and the need to allocate a maximum number of times per week that individuals or families can come in to receive help. In fact, some of the people who used to contribute are now people in need of contributions as a result of last year's immense bust in California's housing market, a bust similar to that across the USA but with seemingly greater consequences, considering that California has, in general, the highest housing prices in the country, both for owning and for renting. So, renting has become a problem for those who have lost their homes.

Given these two distant-from-each-other food banks in crisis, I would imagine that any city anywhere in this country has food banks in similar situations. If you are in a position to help, it would seem that there is no better time than now.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Readymade Packets for the Homeless

Jennifer Schmidt recently wrote a post for the (In)Courage site called The Hidden Face of Homelessness. I found her post so appealing that I would like to bring your attention to it. You can find the full post at (In)Courage: The Hidden Face of Homelessness.

What Ms. Schmidt is suggesting is so obvious but unlikely to have been thought of very many people. She prepares "care packages for the homeless" that she carries around with her and hands out when she happens to run into a homeless person. Here is what she suggests including in a care package:

1. Hand warmers, gloves
2. Snacks
3. Wet Wipes
4. Toothbrush/toothpaste
5. Water bottle
6. Mints/gum/cough drops
7. Kleenex
8. Chapstick
9. Note/bible verse
10. Pillar candles

This is something we can all do, both for those that we take to dinner and those we just occasionally run into. I will say "yes" to her question: "Will you join me [in carrying and giving out care packages]?" How about you?