The Hungry Truth- Judge Not.


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Today I packed up Silas and headed to the grocery store. I hate grocery shopping because it never fails that I will see some sort of label claim or marketing gimmick that will leave me annoyed. Couple that with people’s seemingly endless propensity to annoy me with their self absorbed antics, and I could argue that getting food for our family is why I drink. However, I was out of coffee so I really couldn’t put off the dreaded trip any longer.

As I pulled into the parking lot from the secret back driveway I use to avoid traffic, I noticed a man standing on the median holding a sign. His back was to me and at first I figured he was holding a sign advertising $5 pizzas or whatever deal the Papa Murphy’s behind him had going on. As I turned the corner I had the chance to quickly skim the sign. In sharpie marker on a white background the words rent, 2 kids and hungry popped out at me. Then I made the mistake of making uncomfortable eye contact with the man holding the sign and I kept driving.

I found a spot in the parking lot where he could see me. As I pulled my baby in his car seat out of the car I hoped he would see me, realize I too had my own child to feed and wouldn’t have hard feelings for the moment of eye contact that didn’t result in him getting any cash. As I walked into the store and grabbed my cart, a flood of thoughts washed over me.

We are not poor. We are not rich. We mostly have what we need, we don’t have all that we want. We pay our bills, not always on time. I’ve been known to buy cauliflower and let it rot in the fridge next to the plate of meat I took out to defrost and forgot about.

I’m also a person who cares about the people around me. I’m a Christian and believe that God calls us to help others. We grow an acre of sweet corn each year that we donate to our local food bank. I helped that same food bank develop an idea where people can adopt dairy cows and donate the milk to those in need. I once won a year’s supply of cheese and I donated it to our local food pantry. I give because I care.

As I filled my cart with both on sale, generic items and expensive specialty coffee, I continued to wrestle with my thoughts. When I passed a massive can of beans, I thought about putting them in my cart and giving them to the man with the sign. The same though popped up as I passed the mac and cheese. Both times I stopped myself from reaching for the food.

Several years ago I was a bartender at a bar near downtown Madison. It was my part time job that helped fill the gaps my full time job couldn’t.  Not far from the bar was a wooded city park where a group of homeless men had an encampment.  I’d see these men panhandling with their signs on my way from my main job to my job bartending. Often after dark I would see them again when they would come into the bar order a pitcher of beer and a basket of fries to share. When their beer and fries were done, the game machines in the corner that have signs proclaiming them to be for entertainment only but who everyone knows has payouts for winning from the bar, would draw their attention and the dollars that some kind hearted person handed over hoping it would help.

I know that often, homelessness and it’s best friend hunger, are symptoms of mental illness and addiction. My personal experiences combined with the anecdotes you hear about panhandlers making solid wages off of unsuspecting saps leaves me conflicted. When I see someone with a sign proclaiming their bad luck, I find myself judging them, trying to decide if I feel they are honestly in need or if they are scamming me.

I don’t want to be had and I don’t want to be hard hearted. Do not judge, lest you be judged. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

Ultimately I didn’t buy any food for the man with the sign. An hour after I first walked into the grocery store, I walked back out and there the man with the sign still stood. He was bundled up more than the 35° temps called for, in clothes that looked to be fairly new. The thought crossed my mind that maybe this was a church pastor and secretly someone was hiding, filming the interactions he had for the next viral YouTube video encouraging us to be better people. It was misting lightly and there he stood. Unprompted by the thought of a viral video, as I walked to my car with my baby and my food I made the decision that I would open my wallet and give whatever cash I had to him. I don’t usually carry cash, I had no idea how much I might find and I figured that if I opened my wallet and found no cash, then that was my answer.

As I drove past the man with the sign I slowed my car and rolled down my window. I handed him the $5 bill I had found in my wallet. In my mind I was going to ask his name and about his story. I wanted to know more. I wanted some proof that his need was real. The only words I managed to stammer out as he reached into my car, “this is the only cash I have” with a shrug of my shoulders for added effect. He responded with a simple “thank you” in an accent I couldn’t place and I drove away not knowing if I had judged him correctly. Maybe I fed an addiction, maybe I fed his kids, I’ll never know.

Graphic courtesy of the Enough Movement.

Graphic courtesy of the Enough Movement.

The Hungry Truth– Hunger is a complex issue. I hope to explore some of the many facets of hunger in this series of monthly blog posts. I hope you’ll follow along as I show the honest truth about hunger. These won’t be comfortable and light topics but I hope they will inspire thought and even more so, action in you. As always, I appreciate your time in reading my blog and I hope this blog series will help a few more people go to bed with a full belly at the end of the day.

16 Comments on The Hungry Truth- Judge Not.

  1. Rae
    January 7, 2016 at 6:43 pm (4 years ago)

    Well thought, and well said as usual.

    I’ve always believed that if someone scams me out of money by being dishonest about their circumstances, that’s between them and God, not them and me… And being ‘taken’ doesn’t diminish the good in the gift that was given.

    I look forward to following this series.

  2. countrylinked
    January 7, 2016 at 6:59 pm (4 years ago)

    Very good insight Carrie. Hunger is not an easy topic and I for one am glad you are tackling it. Are you going to address hunger in different areas? Rural populations, urban and suburban?

    • dairycarrie
      January 7, 2016 at 7:01 pm (4 years ago)

      Thanks Laurie, I intend to look at hunger from many different angles.

  3. Linda Griffith, PhD, RD
    January 8, 2016 at 3:48 am (4 years ago)

    I read your story and think you are trying to console your hesitancy of giving by giving yourself a pat on the back for not offering help in the first place. What is $5 and there are millions with hunger issues or as we call it in the professional world no food security. If you look at the real literature to write your report use the term Food Security to see what you find in professional literature. I never hesitate.

    I give money without hesitation. What is $5 and if drugs or alcohol are involved you can usually tell by the mans actions. If he isn’t sober or needing another drug fix he won’t be acting normally and probably wouldn’t think to bring the kids. Sounds like an unemployed and probably an uneducated refugees we have in the US.

    I want to share a you tube video my son just sent me….maybe it will relieve your conscience . A truly amazing story of helping others.


    • dairycarrie
      January 8, 2016 at 8:33 am (4 years ago)

      I think you’re missing the point of this post.

      • vikki
        January 12, 2016 at 6:18 pm (4 years ago)

        I look forward to your posts. I don’t think you were patting yourself on the back – I think you were really honest about being conflicted. Thanks for that.

  4. Mark Yeazel
    January 8, 2016 at 5:56 am (4 years ago)

    We have entered a time of skepticism and judgement. It is hard to take this to a personal level, because to help solve homelessness or hunger, it really requires a relationship not a handout. Society decided long ago to move this from a community responsibility, that churches and other organizations such as Grange or local women’s groups tackled, and moved it to a government program which has exponentially grown into a large bureaucracy where more goes to those who implement the program, than the are served by the program. It also has created generational entitlement and dependence. It also removed the accountability that we long for that a community could provide. The question that haunts us is how do we take this down to a personal level? As we work hard to provide for our own needs, we do not want to give to someone who does not do the same. I have on occasion simply picked up the individual and taken them to the farm to do work for a day (although, my skepticism requires me to say this is not a good idea for a woman with a child in the car). Last one freely admitted to me that he had served time in prison for murder, and now could not get a full time job. We also allowed a young woman to live with us for several months while she got her feet on the ground. Clearly it was her own attitudes that were holding her back, but at least she got a job and kept it while with us until she moved out. It simply will require a job to end homelessness and hunger for most individuals and families. But it also requires an attitude adjustment that is much harder for them, as the skills and pull of the world for all the perks is has to offer is strong. It also requires us to remember that “to much is given, much is required”. Some times that is a sandwich or $5, for others, it means to offer them a job. I would encourage you to go spend time at your local food bank. You will find all kinds of people there, from those who need it as a stop gap for an emergency or one time need, to those who are now third generation dependents of the program.

  5. Tracey Johnston
    January 8, 2016 at 6:38 am (4 years ago)

    Your writing, as so often happens, mirror my own thoughts and feelings. I look forward to your new blog topic.

  6. Cathy
    January 8, 2016 at 6:48 am (4 years ago)

    I feel the same as you Carrie, not wanting to be a jerk but also not wanting to be taken. When I read about you having two jobs when you needed to, it makes me angry that too many people just don’t want to work.

  7. Julie V.
    January 8, 2016 at 10:44 am (4 years ago)

    The topic of your post is one that is actually on my radar for 2016. It will be interesting to read your monthly posts and learn and relate to them. I too have found myself in situations thinking similar thoughts.

  8. Gail
    January 12, 2016 at 5:40 pm (4 years ago)

    In December there was a lady bundled up near an intersection by the mall. I debated about giving money but I gave her $10. She said she would be able to eat today. It was about 3:30 pm.
    Sometimes I see a young couple with a baby and a dog asking for money to me it looks like a lifestyle choice as they did not appear to look homeless. Judgement call.

  9. Lisa Robinson
    January 12, 2016 at 6:17 pm (4 years ago)

    Thank you for taking the time to write about this topic. More and more you are seeing this on street corners both in Rural Communities and in Metro Areas. Sad but true there are some that are just looking for a fix and some who do really need the help. Years ago there was never a question asked if someone needed the help, people seemed willing to oblige but now when you see so many it is questioned, especially when you see that they either have new shoes, fancy clothes, smoking and so on. Here in our state we have a monthly food drive in each Town where a Food Truck comes around. Wonderful program and many people and stores donate to keep the Food Pantry stocked for this program. Also I look behind the stores for people sleeping in their cars or at church’s in their cars, those are the ones who desperately need the help. Each county has shelters (which they cannot disclose) but items can be dropped off to be donated to them also. That is one way that I have found myself when I can to help. I have also noticed a lot of church’s in our area now have what they call Angel Tree’s, where I child places a wish on a angel and hang’s it on a tree.

  10. Dave Allsopp
    January 12, 2016 at 9:23 pm (4 years ago)

    I think that I am looking forward to this “era” of your blog. This is an interest of mine as well!

  11. Erin
    January 13, 2016 at 12:13 pm (4 years ago)

    I think that these are all thoughts we as a society have struggled with – it is something that is a reality of our world…having to struggle to believe each others stories..and balance how much we can help and how we can help. The difference here is that you’ve actually said out loud what most refuse to admit they’ve thought. It’s a scary and hard thing to admit that we have these thoughts and that we’re not just constantly giving and accepting and loving of everyone, no matter their circumstance. These judgments, preconceived notions and bias do exist, and it’s only by acknowledging them that we will be able to move forward to actively helping these people. I start volunteering at a homeless shelter this past fall and it’s truly something that I now believe that everyone should do. I went in with all sorts of preconceived notions. I had all sorts of thoughts in my head about the kind of people that would be using these services…and maybe in a weird way I felt as though I was in a better place, I was a better person or that I was doing something great and magnificent for these people by volunteering…and even if I didn’t want to admit it…I didn’t see people who are homeless as the people they are. Every time it comes up that I volunteer at a shelter, people automatically hint at asking me about the people and their stories – because its something that so many people just don’t understand…and there is a lot of assumption that it’s mostly addition or mental illness that lands people to be homeless…and it’s definitely a part of the problem….I’ve seen people who are strung out, high as kites…who have blacked out and ended up in the ER because they were drunk, or who are paranoid of everyone and everything…but I’ve also met a lot of young kids who head off to work every day and are struggling to get together enough for a first and last deposit for a place, guys who have chosen between being able to pay for housing or paying for college because they want to make something of themselves and are now clean and sober and REALLY trying but just can’t do it all, people who get up at 6am every day and call their kids to make sure they’re getting ready for school and tell them they love them and they’ll pick up them after school to help them with their homework. I’ve met people whose bosses come to the shelter every day to pick them up and take them to work, and those who run over to help lift the cots and put them away in the morning for you and those who slowly open up and tell you about their rough childhoods and the challenges they’ve faced in the wee hours of the morning when they can’t sleep. I think that the reason a lot more people aren’t on the streets is because they’ve had love and support and a helping hand when they’re down…and that you just never know where you end up and that no one chooses that life. We get donations of clothes with the tags still on and people at the shelter love them…but they’re also almost afraid to wear them because they’re afraid people will think they’re just living beyond their means…or that they’ve stolen it…or that they don’t otherwise need help to find a job or a place to live…when they’re just trying to do what they can to survive.
    I think that the biggest difference for me now though…is that I drive downtown and I actively see homeless people I know. I don’t see someone who is an annoyance begging, or someone that I have to avoid eye contact with or feel awkward if I do…or someone I have to walk around or cross the street before I get to them….I see Bill who rushes to help with the morning dishes…and Mike who is doing his homework….I see Collin whose parents kicked him out of the house when he turned 18 and I see Greg who lost his job and his home and his family…and is doing odd jobs to try and get it together and actively struggles and works every day to not buy booze with the money he scrounges together… they’re real people to me now – they’re no longer faceless and they’re teaching me so much about life, myself and the kind of person I want to be. They’re mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children…they’re cared about and loved and struggling…they have stories to be told and more than clothes, food or money…(even though those things are great and they DO want/need them) they mostly just want to be a part of the world and to be talked to and acknowledged as a human being….which is hard to do or know how to start doing….but I think it’s important to at least force ourselves to try….which it seems to me that you’re on the path to trying to do 🙂

    It’s a huge crazy complex issue…one that most people refuse to even admit or acknowledge is there…I think in part because they don’t know how to fix it, and if they don’t acknowledge the issue or their prejudices…they won’t have to deal with it…but I really believe that once we force ourselves to, that’s when we can show love, our humanity and our empathy for other human beings – in whatever form it takes. Thanks for pushing yourself to write this – it mirrors so many of my own thoughts…some which have changed recently and others which may still exist deeper down….and what I know are so many others think — whether they admit them or not….and it’s a serious topic that needs to be addressed. Excited to follow along 🙂

    • dairycarrie
      January 13, 2016 at 12:20 pm (4 years ago)

      Thank you for your comment. I hope to reach the place you’re at, in part through this blog series.