Tag Archives: homelessness

Compassion Cards: An innovative way to help the hungry

Artwork by Jim Hodges

Artwork by Jim Hodges

Reader Rebecca Strong of Seattle wrote this week to share a wonderful idea she’s been enacting when she sees people on the street asking for money.  I asked if I might abridge her email for this blog, and she agreed.  This is something we practice here in Los Angeles, too.  Just as it feels great to feed someone you love, so too does it feel great to give a meal to someone you don’t know—who needs it:

“I wanted to be compassionate, but I was uneasy about giving out money because, as a petite, middle-aged woman, I was uncomfortable opening my wallet to hand out money when walking alone in the city. I wanted to help people buy food or other necessities, but I worried that money might be used to buy drugs and alcohol. At the same time, I didn’t want to judge anyone as being more or less likely to buy drugs and alcohol, or more or less worthy of receiving help from me.

I asked my favorite Real Change vendor who sells his papers outside the Walgreen’s in my neighborhood for advice. (Real Change is a newspaper and organization that exists to provide opportunity and a voice for low-income and homeless people in Seattle.) He told me about one very cold morning when he was homeless and hungry. A man he did not know offered to buy him a hot breakfast. Together they went to a supermarket. Standing before a case of hot food in the deli, the hungry man chose what he wanted to eat, and the kind stranger paid for it. The man remembered every detail of that meal, and he said it was the most delicious food he had ever eaten. His suggestion to me was to purchase gift cards for restaurants like McDonalds and give them to the people on the streets who ask for money.

Since I don’t eat in fast food restaurants myself, and since I wanted to give people who might prefer healthier options the ability to choose their own food, I came up with the idea of giving supermarket gift cards instead.

So now I regularly purchase $5.00 gift cards from local supermarkets and food co-ops, and I keep them in my jacket pocket. Whenever I encounter someone out on the street who is asking for money, I offer a card. I explain that it is a gift card worth $5.00 to buy food. Most people are surprised, delighted, and grateful to receive a card for buying food. It seems to me that these gift cards are an ideal way to be compassionate towards people who have no money to buy food.

In my own mind, I call the supermarket gift cards I give out Compassion Cards because they allow me to be compassionate towards the needy people I encounter in the city. When I give a Compassion Card to someone on the street, although it is a brief encounter, it is a meaningful experience. It is an opportunity for me to offer help and for someone to receive my help in a personal way. It is uplifting for both of us.”

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My personal year-in-review (is less about me than others)

photoAs so many of us are contemplating what we want out of the new year that’s dawning, I found myself making a list of what I managed to get accomplished over the last year, which happened to be my 50th.

While I didn’t do anything that by conventional standards was notable or headline-worthy (no bestsellers, no blockbuster deals, no gorgeous bouncing babies, house purchases, etc.) I was happy to see, in review, that it’s been productive–and more importantly, productive in a way that helps other people, my own personal mandate.

(Note: Only one of the things on this list involves making money.  Also note: This list is not in any particular order.)

Women of the DWC bake for their coffeeshop

Women of the DWC bake for their coffeeshop

1. The cooking group I lead at the Downtown Women’s Center (for women in need) helped them win a $25k grant from the Halo Foundation. We can’t solve homelessness by making dinner for people in need, but we can feel a part of our community and provide a healthy meal for those who don’t have access to what most of us take for granted.  Even better that we stoked their coffers, too.

2. I researched and spearheaded a movement that led to a rent abatement for over 100 of our neighbors due to the loss of our beloved swimming pool and other services here on my beloved Bunker Hill.  (I also managed to keep swimming, elsewhere.)

3. Working with another neighbor, we managed to clean up a deteriorating area of our community and involve/alert local officials, as well as draw media attention to the problem.

4. I’ve been working with Bhutanese refugees to help them with their all-volunteer media service that chronicles their resettlement around the world, a fascinating experience for me and important work for them.  Very interesting counterpoint to what I encountered while in Bhutan volunteering at a radio station there.

Academy of our Lady of Peace goes to Bhutan

Academy of our Lady of Peace examines Shangri-La

5. Of all the interesting places where I am fortunate to be asked to talk about the themes in my book, Radio Shangri-La, an all-girls Catholic school in San Diego and a gathering of hundreds of youth at the Kroc Peace Center were two highlights.  Love talking to kids.

6. I interviewed Deepak Chopra and his brother Dr. Sanjiv in front of 500 people at an Episcopalian church.

7. I interviewed Michaela Haas, the author of a compelling book about female Buddhist spiritual leaders, at a meditation center.

Vince at the gleaming Marlins stadium

Vince at the gleaming Marlins stadium

8. Along with my brother and boyfriend, we wrangled my parents and elderly aunt to a baseball game (a dream of theirs to see the new stadium in Miami.)  Later in the summer, we corralled my boyfriend’s infirm mother for a fun outing that involved ice cream and “freaking unbelievable hamburgers.”  Seeing her laugh was worth the entire trip.

9. I’ve read a lot, lot, lot, partially for my research on my Joan Kroc book but partially just because, which makes me happy especially when I hear people complain they don’t have time to read; I feel lucky that I do make time for this.

10. My part-time paying job, at KCRW, allows me to meet and talk with incredibly interesting people doing incredibly interesting things, usually having to do with art, usually mostly underfunded and otherwise unpublicized. Being able to share those conversations with the radio-listening and Web-viewing public is an honor and a delight.  It’s a rewarding (to me) application of my media background–which I resolved to put to better use after my book sold and allowed me to “retire” from daily news back in 2008.

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