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Gaining Gap-toothed Smiles

January 23, 2012

I cannot drive past a homeless person without having my heart break. Unfortunately, this means my heart breaks several times a day. Kansas City is crawling with homeless people, especially around the Plaza (a high-end shopping district mere blocks from my dorm). There are certain high-traffic intersections that usually entertain multiple homeless people on every corner, and these are the intersections I drive through every day.
When I first moved to KC, I was not sure how to handle seeing these people. I grew up in a town of 12,000, where I not once saw a ragtag person standing on the street corner with a cardboard sign and desperate eyes. Now I see them constantly. At first, I did my best to ignore them. Their inadequate clothing and Sharpie’d messages moved me, but I was under the impression that I was not supposed to give them money.  They would just use it for drugs, right? That is what I had heard, although I did not fully believe it. Then there were the stories of homeless imposters, people who used begging as a means of income but actually had a home to return to at the end of the day. It makes a person think that giving to the homeless is pointless.

Source: SCIWAY

However, I could not cast my eyes down forever.  I grew tired of pretending that I could not see them outside my car window, of checking my phone or glancing in the mirror in order to avoid their hungry gaze. I grew tired of denying the tug I felt to help them. So, I caved to compassion. I started with granola bars, and worked my way up from there. I try to keep one and five dollar bills in the small pull-out compartment next to my steering wheel, to hand out when I get the chance. Do I give five dollar bills to every homeless person I see? No, but I do when I get the chance. We spend money  on such trivial items each day (Starbucks), so it is no sacrifice to lose a few more dollars. If anything, I am losing nothing, but gaining instead. I gain gratitude. I gain genuine, heart-felt thank you’s from people who are happy to just get a buck. I gain gap-toothed smiles and “God bless”. For a moment, I get to witness a transformation of empty eyes into eyes crinkled with a smile.

For this, I give to the homeless.

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