Sunday, August 3, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Tell Me About It: How to teach a child about panhandlers

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: Any suggestions for explaining to a 7-year-old why I don't give change to every panhandler who asks? I walk her to school through an urban area and have already deflected her questions about this more times than I care to admit.

Answer: "I think there are better ways to help people than to give them spare change. For example, I give money to groups that help homeless people." Then do. Have her watch you.

Even better, encourage her to go through her toys, books, and clothing to see if there's anything she has outgrown and can donate. If you can up that to volunteering at a shelter, even better. Just not as a token on a holiday; that creates more problems than solutions for shelters.

If she asks more questions - like the obvious one, "Why?" - you can say that spare change might help solve an immediate problem, like an empty stomach, but that a good charity will help solve problems longer-term.

Comment: When I lived in New York, I got to know the regular panhandlers along my route to work. Instead of giving money, I made sandwiches and veggie strips. If I ran into one of them, I'd give it to them. If not, then I had veggies to snack on myself. I made peanut butter sandwiches since they lasted a couple of days without affecting taste.

I donate to United Way for the systemic help, but it was hard even as an adult to turn away from a plea for help. This way I didn't give money, but if they were really in need, I was able to feed them a single meal.

Answer: Very thoughtful idea, thank you. (Some outreach groups suggest sunflower butter due to allergy concerns.)

Comment: Since you're in D.C.: Do you ever pass people selling "Street Sense"? When you buy the paper (have the 7-year-old handle the transaction), you can explain what "Street Sense" is (a newspaper produced and sold by homeless people), and how the person selling the paper is helping him- or herself. In nearly every issue there is a Vendor Profile you can share with her, about how "Street Sense" has helped the vendor get back in the game.

Answer: D.C.-specific, but the idea of supporting "get back in the game" programs is widely applicable. Thanks.

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Carolyn Hax
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