Please don’t OD with my dollar – to give or not to give 12

Please don’t OD with my dollar.

To whom should I give my spare dollar today?  To which of the pleas/entreaties should I respond?

  • The woman with the baby on her hip is a no brainer. She has a baby.  That is a struggle I understand.
  • The woman by the elevator at her regular perch by the Orange Line elevator on Washington Street?  Not again.
  • The self-proclaimed vet with the sign on Gallivan Blvd?  Yes, something in his countenance makes me give without hesitation.
  • The severely disabled man on the tram? The striking blind-man whose eyes are severely scarred?

If I cried easily, today is a day I’d cry in sorrow and in dismay as I am approached by yet another person, who may or may not be homeless, who may or may not be hustling.

Don’t let my dollars be the one you OD on, I think.  Some people are clearly hustling for money to get high, drink or smoke.  Others, it’s difficult to tell.

Are they really just trying to get enough money to get back to Fitchburg, Worcester, or crosstown?  Are they just trying to get a sandwich? Is the story on the handwritten placard in Somerville, Harvard Square, Downtown Crossing true?

No matter what, it seems to me that getting to the point where you ask or beg  for money is demeaning.  The person is needy in some way even if it’s not the way I would choose to contribute to.

The regular guy at Field’s Corner Station in the evening? “Can you spare a dollar?”  Sometimes yes, but today not. “Have a good night,” he says whether you do or don’t.   I am annoyed that he and the others outside the Panera on Huntington Ave. are daily presences, but then isn’t being broke a daily condition until something happens and you are no longer broke?

The fourth person to ask me on this day, I just can’t.   I’ve already given to three people today – three dollars.  Not much money in the grand scheme of things, but something about the fourth approach takes me aback.  I begin my dialogue with myself.  No….well…. Why not a fourth?

It is easier to give to the young people hustling candy on the subway.  I used to only see this type of ask on New York City trains.  It is harder to give to others.

Sometimes I’ve walked pass a person and something compels me to turnaround and go back and give.  Other times, I can walk right by as though they are invisible especially the loud and colorful regulars.  Thank you for opening the door for me but I am not paying the fee.  No, I don’t want a copy of Spare Change – I bought one copy earlier and I’ve been asked by two  people in the space of two blocks.

Sometimes I feel pity. Other times sorrow. Other times, resentment, as when the person peppers me with a full story that seems rehearsed and therefore, somehow, not true or when I’m asked for a specific amount – “Can you spare a dollar?”  What if I can only spare 50 cents?  How about that?

I am embarrassed when thanked effusively – I just want to give and keep it moving, a simple acknowledgement will do.  I am annoyed when I’m not thanked – my dollar is taken and the person is already on to the next folks passing by.

All I know is, I give when I can and when I feel compelled to and it is almost always uncomfortable.  I truly don’t want my contribution to do damage to anyone.

(Note: I do give to non-profit organizations regularly, this does not prevent me from wanting to give to humans I encounter daily.)



About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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12 thoughts on “Please don’t OD with my dollar – to give or not to give

  • Christine Rose

    Your title compelled me to read this issue of the blog. Just this past week for the first time in a long time I can recall giving to someone on the street. I refuse to give them money. This man was ourside City Feed in JP and ask for some change when I come out. I said, ” Sorry no, may I get you somehting to eat?” to which he replied, “iced coffee extra extra”. Perhaps I did this because I was with my 7 year old great nephew or perhaps I just felt compelled. It rolled out of my mouth without any thought until I read this blog.

    I recall when I managed a fast food restaurant on Huntington in the 90s when a panhandler used to come in to exchange his coin for bills (sometimes as much as 100/night!), damn this is his job! It is for that reason I can not support panhandlers.

    • Candelaria Silva Post author

      Thank you for sharing your experiences. Because of what you said about working at a fast food restaurant, it underscores what I feel about people I see who have the same story and same ask everyday. I guess I’ll give as I feel compelled to. Good to see that I’m not alone. I’m also proud of you for being a good example to your 7 year old nephew.


    So true…my thoughts with every “ask!” And I feel guilty when I don’t give! I feel to be at the point of having to ask, is a compelling need that our society is basically, overlooking. But again, don’t let me be the cause of someone OD–ing! I ask am I helping or hurting? Aren’t they in enough pain to be there…asking?

    • Candelaria Silva Post author

      A friend on Facebook today said that she offered to buy a guy a sandwich and he got impatient waiting and set he just wanted money.
      It’s good to know that I’m not alone in feeling conflicted. Thank you for taking time to read and leaving a comment.

  • India Smith

    Thank you once again, Candelaria, for putting things so well. I don’t want to treat anyone as invisible. But to acknowledge panhandlers and not give them something is…cruel? Sort of a slap because I have resources yet I am withholding them. I just don’t see a solution.

    • Candelaria Silva Post author

      I think we should all give when we can. I actually put 3-5 dollars in my pockets everyday. I won’t go into my purse to get my wallet.
      When that is depleted, that’s usually it for the day. The regulars do sometimes bother me. I also understand that “but for the grace of God go I.” Thanks for reading and taking time to leave a comment.

  • Helen M Credle

    I AM not here to judge another’s journey….I give to all who are close to the giving….God sent….Heaven recognizes!!!!

  • Lucilda Dassardo-Cooper

    I keep a dollar in my car and reach out to give when I feel compelled.
    Sometimes the person does not notice and is on to the next car and I think that maybe he did not need my dollar. I learned in India never to give from my pocket or purse – you can be totally inundated by a horde. Still on a very rare occasion I will actually give from my purse if my intuition kicks in. Otherwise I say sorry – try the Social Services office.