Buy a needy stranger a meal? Be practical!

Yesterday’s Straits Times (Dec 21) carried what seemed like a timely letter, considering that this is the season for giving to one’s loved ones. Why not extend that largesse to a needy stranger suggested the letter written by a Peter Loon.

Among many of the usual utterances against conspicuous consumerism, he popped this proposal:  

While we plan our spending spree, let us take the time to look around. … There may be someone who has yet to feel the festive spirit because he has no money or, worse, no one to spend it with… Given the origins of Christmas, when an innkeeper is thought to have gone out of his way to make room for a woman and her unborn child in a manger, can we (not) extend the same warmth to a stranger?… How about spending some of that hard-earned money on a gift for a friend or, better yet, someone you do not know? Perhaps take a needy stranger out for a Christmas dinner?.

That may be exactly the sort of thing that happens on a TV show, a film or even a play at the Esplanade, but in real life, it’s anything but practical!

Picture this. We run into a “bag” lady at Centrepoint or one of the crowded places where such sad cases can be found without difficulty. We say “auntie, come let’s eat”. Do we take her to the nearest food court? Surely not. That’s not a treat! Let’s say we take her to Aston which boasts the best steaks at the cheapest prices.

But, not wanting to sound unkind, do you think a stranger who has seen better days and probably not seen a good bath for more days than regular folks will fit into a restaurant setting? Even if it isn’t Morton’s?

Also, what kind of a conversation could a well-heeled well-intentioned Good Samaritan have with someone without money, loved ones and perhaps even a bed to call her own while sharing a meal together?

While the  suggestion from Mr Loon shows that many people have their hearts in the right place, to be really effective in helping those who need that good meal, one has to do what is practical to make sure that the money spent hits the spot rather than just swell the pockets of restauranteurs.

What I suggest is that by all means buy that down-and-out stranger a meal and hopefully not only at X’mas time — but do so by passing him or her the money, discreetly, so as not to cause embarrassment or to imply that the recipient is a beggar.

Sure, I know some people are against handing small sums of cash to strangers who look hard-up, on the ground that it just encourages a dependent mentality, laziness or worse still, it’s a con-job ie the person who looks poverty stricken is only pretending to be so etc

Or, horrors, the down-n-out actually rejects the cash gift, causing the potential benefactor to look silly and embarrassed.

Such fears aren’t entirely misplaced but my own philosophy is that if someone can hang around for hours on end every day looking gaunt, hungry, dirty, ragged, in the sun and the rain in a public place, without anywhere comfortable to rest or sit,  just to con two bucks off me, then I think that someone deserves the money.

Truth is, for every layabout and con who got my money, I’ve encountered dozens of genuine cases who deserve to be given that little something.

Truth is too, I’ve occasionally found my proffered $2 rejected, because the would-be recipient was embarrassed. But I find that if I run into the same person time and again and make the same offer, he/she will accept, convinced by my sincerity, or more likely the situation had deteriorated and desperation had overcome initial resistance.

Yes, Singapore is a rich country and there are many safety nets for those fallen on hard times. But nets being what they are, are full of holes and the doubly unfortunate would fall thru.

So it’s up to people who can spare a little money to not only think of organised charities but also the disorganised poor who continue to exist in our midst. Every dollar given goes 100% to the beneficiaries, without red tape, without cost.

For kind souls who would like to know the regular places to discover more obvious clusters of these unfortunate people, please contact me.

I won’t like to specify the locations in this post in case overzealous officers from our dear MCYS zoom in to clear them out of sight, but not necessarily improving their plight!


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