A Story of Giving

By Katie, 5:48 am

Loved reading about all of your baking blunders!

As we approach Christmas Day, I can’t help but think of this story told to me a few years ago by my supervisor at an old job. We’ll call him Andrew.

Andrew was eating a late lunch at a nearly-empty Subway in Washington D.C. At one point he looked up from his meal to see a filthy woman walk through the door. Her skirt was stained and tattered, and she smelled of garbage. The caddy of random belongings she wheeled behind her made Andrew realize that she was probably homeless and living on the streets.  

She sat down at a table across from Andrew, so that making eye contact was nearly inevitable. Once she had caught his gaze, she gruffly asked for $20.

Acting as he had been taught, Andrew refused to give the woman cash, assuming she’d use it to buy drugs and/or alcohol. But if she’d like a sandwich, he said, he’d be more than happy to buy her any one on the menu.

The woman didn’t want a sandwich and grew visibly irritated at the suggestion. In a huff, she got up and walked out of the Subway.

When Andrew had finished his lunch and walked out of the shop, he was confronted with the homeless woman again; she was curled up on the street next to her caddy of belongings. Curiosity got the best of him – he wanted to know why she had asked for $20 specifically instead of just for money in general. So he knelt beside her and asked. (Andrew is one of those people who feels perfectly comfortable striking up conversations with strangers.)

Surprisingly, she gave him a very direct answer. There’s a store down the street, she said, a little less gruffly than before, and it’s selling jeans for $20. I can’t go another night on the street in this skirt…the men won’t leave me alone.

Andrew was stunned, as he realized that this woman, homeless and vulnerable in her skirt, was probably being sexually violated every night. He had wanted to buy her a foot-long turkey sub; she had wanted a pair of pants to better protect herself from sexual assault. It was a request he never could have anticipated.

He gave her the $20.


I have always found this story very jarring. For me it is a story about the assumptions and judgments we often make about people in need. It’s about where we automatically place blame and how we diagnose situations with which we are probably not familiar. Thank goodness, I have never been homeless. So how would I know what a homeless person really needs? Why should I make assumptions and judgments about that person’s choices? About that person’s life?

This isn’t to say that we should or should not give money to homeless people on the streets, as I believe there are compelling arguments on all sides of that question. I think the lesson here is much more broad: Give freely, give compassionately, and give without judgment. It is not up to me to decide who is or is not deserving of my help, for I can never know the whole picture. My job, rather, is simply to show compassion for those less fortunate than I am, by sharing myself with them – my prayers, my time, and my resources.

As Christmas approaches, I cannot stop thinking about that woman Andrew encountered on the street. Her story makes me want to give.

What makes you want to GIVE this holiday season?

14 Responses to “A Story of Giving”

  1. That is one of the most powerful stories I’ve ever read. It gives me chills, and I doubt I’ll ever forget it.

    We do tend to judge… and to fear. Why is it that we’re so quick to assume why someone asks for something? Sometimes, people are very brave for asking for what they need… even if they don’t immediately offer an explanation of why they need it. Wow, what a story!

  2. Sarah says:

    Oh, wow. Thank you so much for sharing this story, Katie. Those last few paragraphs you wrote (concerning giving freely, compassionately, and without judgment) were some of the major principle the Tuohy family (made famous by the Blindside) espoused. And a LOT of people were blessed by that principle that they decided on and stuck to.
    This is my favorite post today (or maybe all week.)
    Thank you for sharing these words.

  3. Wow! What a story. And its so easy to just get caught up in that old rule of not offering money and not thinking twice about it.

  4. I love that he actually asked what it was for.

  5. Nicole, RD says:

    I’m teary. That is sweet and so sad all in one. I am so glad he struck up that second conversation with her. Poor thing.

    I have helped so many families in need this year, it makes my heart smile. We adopted a co-worker for Christmas, anonymously. We bought gifts for patient’s families. I donated to 2 charities. And I donated the biggest box of clothes to Good Will. It’s what this season is all about for me, and it warms me up inside, making me feel very blessed.

    • Katie says:

      No doubt in my mind that your compassion touches many lives, at this time of year and always. :)

  6. Very powerful. And yeah, it’s all about the judgment and assumptions we make…as if we “know better.” I worked in NYC for 15 years and saw pretty much everything you can imagine. Sometimes I gave money, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I bought the sandwich, sometimes I didn’t. But I remember one of of the most significant things I ever did was change my attitude from one of defensiveness (walking quickly, with my eyes down, on a mission just to get to or from work) to one of openness and contact, (walking more slowly and deliberately, with my eyes up and meeting the eyes of others…ALL others, and taking in the scenery even though I saw it every day).

    • Katie says:

      How incredible that shift in perspective can be. Like you, my attitude used to just be “keep on walking, don’t make eye contact.” Looking back, I regret that I failed to see the beauty – and even the HUMANITY – in everyone.

  7. Josie says:

    reading stories like this makes me want to give, Katie. i’ve been working on giving this way this year, and i honestly think it’s making me a better and happier person.

  8. So true, and so eloquently written, Katie. I really do believe in the power of eye contact, a smile, and a “Hello!” It’s the simple acknowledgment of someone’s existence and their right to be treated humanely.

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