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‘My name is Earnest. Please help me’

What if you could make someone’s day for $4.30 and you only had to walk 10 steps out of your way?

Would you do it?

I was on the treadmill at the gym, which is across from a very popular and crowded breakfast place and a Dunkin’ Donuts. When I’m on the treadmill I like to fix my eyes to one spot so I don’t see the timer and be constantly reminded of how much longer I have to go.

Today an older homeless gentlemen I had never seen was sitting between the two businesses and he had a rather large sign that I couldn’t read. I saw at least 60 people — and that’s conservative — walk by when I was watching. I saw 1 person drop a coin (or coins) and one other read the sign. That’s it.

After my workout and cleaning up and getting my wallet, I went back to see if he was still there. That was about 45 minutes later. And he was.

His sign had his name and situation. “My name is Earnest, I’m a homeless Vietnam vet who served in … Please help me.” (I can’t remember the town.)

So I leaned in and said “Would you like a coffee from Dunkin Donuts? Do you drink coffee?” And very quietly he said yes. I said how do you take it? He said with cream and extra sugar. I said large? And he said, no, just medium please.

Then I asked …

Do you want a doughnut or some breakfast? And he said doughnut please. I asked what kind of doughnut?

All of a sudden … Tears …

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t prepared for that question. I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that. Ummm, glazed. Or chocolate glazed. Thank you.”

So I got him his medium coffee with cream and extra sugar and wouldn’t you know they had both kinds of doughnuts. So he got both.

I brought it back to him and he quietly said thank you and smiled. I said you’re welcome and walked away.

So, what kinds of people did I see during this time at the gym? Unfortunately, all kinds.

There’s the “pretend to start talking to the person next to you so you can pretend you don’t see the homeless guy person.” I couldn’t hear anything, but it’s possible this person started laughing or talking about nothing just long enough to pretend not to notice.

Then there was the “make a wide loop into the street and away from the homeless guy” person who walks into the parking lane to not have to be near the person.

And then you have the “pretend your phone told you to quickly turn around and go the other way” person who looks so obviously trying to avoid walk past the person.

Of course there’s the usual “Look of disdain person” who can’t be bothered with an obstacle in the sidewalk.

The person I saw read the sign stopped for a few seconds and read it all, it seemed, but then walked away without doing anything else. Young guy. I like to think they came back later, even if I don’t believe that’s true.

The one guy who put a coin in the cup – could have been more than one coin – was college-aged and wearing a hat. He stopped, read the sign, bent down to the cup on the ground and added the coin or coins. I can’t tell if he talked to Earnest or not.

I find it fascinating that the two people who reacted in any way at all were young. This guy is older and a Vietnam vet. You’d think someone in their 40s, 50s or 60s would have reacted. Those people all went by. Says a lot for the younger generation. Maybe they have parents that taught them well.

I couldn’t help but think that this guy chooses a spot that smells so good and watches as the world passes him by. Maybe the pancakes made him happy. Maybe he wasn’t able to walk. Either way, people are eating less than 50 feet away. They leave food on their plates. Get it in a to-go box and ask him if he wants it. No person should be handed leftovers, but you know what? It’s something snd something is better than nothing.

I don’t expect 60+ people to do what I did. But you know what I wish? I wish that 58 more people gave him a coin or read his sign. I’m just glad he at least had one happy thing happen to him. I often think that I or any one of us could be in Earnest’s place and I would hope more than 2 out of 60 people would at least try to acknowledge our existence. Honestly, I don’t think we would have fared any better.

Someone commented on my Facebook post where I first mentioned this and said some people are afraid to give money and are generally afraid because of safety concerns. And you never know if someone will take your money and buy drugs. I get that, and no, you don’t know. And you of course have to put safety first, just as I do. But lumping everyone into one bucket is hardly fair.

If you need a moral to the story, it’s this: An extra second is all it takes to make a difference for someone who has nothing but time.

Feel free to comment and tell me how you feel about this post, but if you really want to make a difference in a really easy way? Just share it.

Thank you.

About Scott Kleinberg

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4 comments

  1. Thanks for doing that, Scott. For helping another of us humans. I do the same. When I see homeless people that everyone ignores, I think two things. How weird it would be to be in their shoes. There are many people walking around, but no one will even acknowledge they existence. Even just an “Hello” to show they see him. It would be a weird sense of isolation. In a crowd, but alone.

    The other thought I have when I see people asking for food, or who say they are homeless is that any larger city has programs in place to feed and house these people. So it confuses me that they are begging for money. Tax payers’ money goes to provide free food and a place to sleep at night. If they need a job, that’s a different situation. Although even then, there are places that provide suits and showers for people going on job interviews. With all these programs in place, maybe that’s why people pass them by. I’m guessing.

    One last general comment about ‘beggars’ is that I’ve personally seen more scammers holding up “need help” signs than people truly asking for assistance. These scammers make their living collecting money at intersections, for what reason I don’t know. Lazy? They think they’re clever? Only God knows…

    • Thanks for the comment. You know, I don’t know what goes through the mind because I’ve never been in the situation. My guess is that the people like the one I helped today are too proud to seek help. Like I said, I don’t know. If this guy was scamming me he did a great job, but I don’t think I was scammed. Are there people out there who are dishonest? Of course. If you’ve ever seen two young people near the train stations here asking for $4.64 to get on Metra to go to Aurora, that’s bull. I know that. And I might have been taken for a ride sometime in my previous attempts at helping. I don’t really think about it when I’m doing it, I’m thinking more about potentially making someone’s day.

  2. When I see someone in need as you did I always try to give what I can. I have friends who say to me “they will just buy booze or drugs”. My response to them is that what I do when I see someone in need is between me and God. What that person does with what I give him is between him or her and God. What is not within my rights is to judge them in anyway.