Memorable Examples of Witnessing Generosity

Have you ever seen something so startling and unusual that it totally made an impression on you?

I saw something along those lines last week, and it totally made an impression. There’s a money angle to this, which is why I think it’s applicable here. Plus, it illustrates people’s willingness to be generous, so I’d like to share this experience.

So, I was on my way to the train station downtown (Chicago), trying to get there on time to make the scheduled departure. I only take a train once in a while, but when I do I’m just trying to get to the station quickly as I can. Anyway, as stepped closer to the station I noticed that people ahead that were either walking toward me or in the same direction were glancing at a something off to the side (my right).

As I got closer, I was surprised by what I saw: a disheveled old man crying.

My first reaction, I have to admit, was something along the lines of “Ok…..what’s this guy’s problem?”

Then, getting closer, I saw that he was an older gentleman. That reality gave me pause, as you just don’t see too many random guys crying on the street, let alone older men. I winced as I realized what was going on.

He was crying and asking people for food since he was hungry.

The man didn’t look homeless from a distance, but as I looked at him it appeared that he was. Regardless, just seeing this guy so distraught asking for help in that way just really hit me in the gut, so to speak. Wow, I felt bad for him. This guy could have been someone’s dad, brother….or even grandfather. Certainly, he was once somebody’s son.

How can we as a society let this happen, where an older man is on the street crying while begging for food?

Ok – I know – not exactly a feel good story so far.  However, it does get better:)

I wanted to do something to help him but I had no food with me, except this banana that was in my work bag that I took in the morning but forgot to eat during the day. I was certain it was all bruised and probably mashed a bit so I didn’t offer it, even though in hindsight he might have liked it anyway.

So, I grabbed my wallet and looked at what bills I had, and saw that I had a twenty and two ones.  Judge me if you want (it’s ok), but my immediate reaction at the time was hesitation about dropping the $20 bill on this situation. Rather, I thought about contributing the $2. But hey, $2 is still money that could help the guy, right?

Right then, a teenage (or young college) age girl walked by with her friends, and stopped to check out the situation. She opened up a backpack, and pulled out a bag that was from a local sandwich shop. Perhaps she bought a sandwich and was taking it to the train to eat on the train? 

What she did next was very cool: She opened the paper bag right in front of me and pulled out a sandwich and bag of chips. Which, as you might guess by now, she gave to the man.

I was basically watching this as I was getting out my wallet to give the $2.  Quickly, it became apparent that the kid offered up something that would be more meaningful to the guy.

But, I gave him the small amount of cash anyway and walked away. He didn’t say much to me, as he seemed caught up in getting the food and saying thank you to the kid. Which is fine, I don’t care. Just happy to see that he got that food from someone. The scene reminded me of a similar situation I’d seen before, thought that didn’t include a distressed person.

All the while after I walked onward to the station, I was struck by what I saw. I gave a little but not much, and was wondering if I could have done more. The kid was great! Most other people just walked on by, pausing long enough to see what was going on but then moving along. We’ve probably all done that at times, I know I have. But when you stop and really pay attention and see what’s going on, this was a crying older guy who was hungry. I mean, that’s no small thing!

All this being said, my big takeaway was this: the kid was more generous and willing to help the elderly guy than the “adults” out there. I guess that includes being more giving that me in that situation, too. Thus, maybe the age old mantra that the younger generations “just don’t get it” is wrong. From what I saw, they “got it” even more than people in my generation (Gen X). That’s a good thing, and I’m glad to see it!

My Questions for You:

Have you ever seen any situations that just jumped out you, in terms of another person having a truly dire financial situation?

Along those lines, have you ever seen an act of generosity that was truly great and that made you proud of the giver – whether you know the person or not?


    • Squirrelers says

      MoneyCone – Agreed, it was a wonderful gesture indeed. Have faith in the current generation….scary to think that this is practically the next generation from mine. Time flies! But glad to see the generosity.

  1. says

    I think the older people are more desensitize about the situation. It’s great what the kid did. Giving food is exactly the correct thing to do in that situation.

  2. says

    There are plenty in the younger generation who have a heart for the less fortunate as well as the environment. They seem to not be as caught up in the material pursuits of life. My family made 250 sack lunches to feed the homeless in downtown Indianapolis. One of our college friends started an organization that helps feed and provide other services for the homeless in Indy. It was quite an experience to pass out the food and talk to these individuals, men, women and children.

    • Squirrelers says

      cashflowmantra – I totally agree with your assessment that the younger generation has many that show an interest in the environment. I think it’s drilled into their heads in school from a young age these days. As for the efforts your family took on, that’s great. Well done. Side note – I didn’t realize that Indianapolis had a lot of homeless folks in that city’s downtown. Haven’t been there in years (well, 5 or 6 anyway) but recall few such folks….but you’d know better living there. By the way, St. Elmo’s is a great steakhouse downtown. Fantastic shrimp cocktails.

  3. says

    We get so desensitized as we get older and I guess some of it is born of cynicism and I guess the rest from following the status quo. The kid did the “right” thing but I suspect that most of us would, no matter the age. It’s hard to see someone hungry and crying and not be affected by it.

    • Squirrelers says

      Yes, I am Cheap – it sure was hard to see someone hungry and crying. Seeing an older guy in that position wasn’t fun. I REALLY liked seeing a younger kid helping out with the hungry older guy. Good respect and values shown right there.

  4. says

    One of the things that desensitizes people is that there are so many serial beggars, who aren’t in desperate need, but it’s more convenient than getting a job. Maybe it’s different in downtown Chicago or other big cities. Here in the O.C., it’s pretty easy to see who is needy and who isn’t. Sometimes, they are holding Work for Food signs, right next to a fast food joint, with a Help Wanted sign in the window. It’s obvious work isn’t the goal.

    I learned this lesson 20 years ago in a subway in NYC. A man told me he was broke and needed a dollar to get home. I quickly pulled out a dollar for the subway and then he started trying to talk me out of five. When I returned four hours later, he was still working the crowd. He had nice clothes and loked like he was doing pretty well. Before that experience I always helped anyone, immediately without question. After that, I became a lot more cynical and hesitant to help.

    Unless someone looks like they are definitely in need, I rarely give money directly to pan-handlers. Instead, I donate to food kitchens and other charitable organizations. One man’s lifeline is another’s opportunity. And, that’s a shame, because there are a lot of homeless vetrans and mentally ill, who could use a helping hand.

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