Friday, November 30, 2007

Keeping it real

I was stopping to get some mints because I'd just inhaled some coffee and wanted to freshen up before I arrived at the Cleveland newsroom. I pulled in to the BP by Jacobs Field to grab some tic-tacs but had to slow down because a woman was standing too close to the entrance.

Her back was turned to me as though she was staring off into space. Just before I blew my horn, she felt my car's approach and moved to the side, but as I pulled past her, I noticed she was bundled up and shivering with a sign at her chest that read "hungry kids."

For what it's worth, I see homeless men all the time near Channel 3 because there's a shelter not too far away on Lakeside Avenue. Still, it's not often that I see a woman panhandling. In this case, the woman didn't look dirty or beat down like the stereotypical street beggar in Cleveland; she just looked depressed.

I looked for some loose change to buy my mints and realized I only had $1.10 to my name. Should I give it to her? Maybe she's just scamming people?

For whatever reason, I just couldn't take my eyes off her so I decided to approach and strike up a conversation. She told me she had three kids and she needed to feed them. They had a place to stay for now, but she was just broke and didn't have funds to get them dinner. She seemed very sad that it had come to this -- begging -- to help her kids but gave me the impression she'd be there all night if need be.

I asked for her name, and she quietly said "Kacky." That didn't sound right, so I asked her for her name a second time. This time she dropped the scarf and I realized why I couldn't understand her -- she was missing teeth and was probably trying to say "Kathy."

I gave her my four quarters and a dime and told her I wish it was more. She said "thank you" about four times. I told her I would pray for her and wished her well. After using my credit card to buy mints at the gas station, I headed back to my car and began to pull out. She was still standing there shivering.

I rolled down my window and wished her luck again and told her that I really would pray for her. She told me that "it's OK .. I'm just a real person."

Real. Real.

Her word choice stuck with me.

I asked her if I could take a cell phone photo to show people what a real mother of three begging looks like and she said "OK."

I drove away and prayed for her during the last few blocks of my drive to Channel 3 and wondered if I'd done enough or whether I'd just allowed myself to get suckered and scammed. Certainly, my $1.10 wasn't going to change her life's fortune or anyone else's, and I don't for a second think my gesture qualifies me for volunteer of the year.

Still, the experience just reminded me that we do indeed have real moms struggling to feed their kids in NE Ohio.

Many of those moms do without so their kids will have enough. Some work second jobs when their kids are asleep at night. Some will make deals with the devil to get a few dollars more for Christmas gifts this year.

And some named "Kacky" with missing teeth hold signs begging for money next to a gas station.

That's what real moms sometimes do.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good for you for giving this lady your change. I often wonder whether someone is genuine or a scammer. I see people holding signs all the time at the Route 8 southbound ramp near the university. It's hard not to judge what someone's going to use the money for. Food, alcohol, drugs??? Not to say this lady was a scammer, but I wonder how a beggar would like a sack of groceries dropped off rather than money? I wrestle with wanting/not wanting to help.

schneb said...

Eric,

As a citizen you did what you needed to do for your country, as a reporter, you know when to feel and how to treat people who have just experienced tragedy, and as a person who is busy and being pulled in so many different directions at this time of year, you have brought to light a very important subject. At the end of the day, He is very proud of you, as am I.

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