“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the one of the gentlemen, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”
I always give a tip to the expat men who bag groceries at the grocery store and since not all customers do this and I have shopped at the same store for years, the baggers now spot me and call for me to come to their check-out aisle. Some will grab my cart and try to steer it to where they are working. Or when I start to unload my cart, they will leave where they are working and come try to ‘help’ the guy who is bagging so they can get a tip as well.
It’s a lot of responsibility and philosophy to deal with when I just want to buy some oranges, bread and jam. What do I owe another person? If I see a man push another bagger away, do I pay both or only the man who was originally working at this check-out counter? Is that man’s desperation for a small amount of money a sign of real need?
Then, of course, the man who pushes the cart to my car and loads my car gets a tip, as does the man who cleans my car while I am shopping. And there are the street sweepers and gardeners who stand next to the road at places where you have to slow down to cross sleeping policemen (speed bumps), forgoing all pretense of work. Some people drive by; others pull over, put on their blinkers, lower the window and hand out cash.
Between my parking space at work and the exit gate, I drive past three to five men who stand at the edge of the driving lane and stare at me. This time of year, this gauntlet of poverty makes me think of Dickens. To give tips every day seems to be rewarding them not working, but then am I Scrooge asking about “workhouses”? I could probably afford to give a small amount to each man every day, but is that where I want to put my charity? There is also the small issue of time for pulling over and handing out tips. And if I started, would it become a necessity, would the men start to depend on the tips? There are no answer – one does what one can with what one has where one is. When I get change, I put it in the cup-holder of my car; if I drive by a street-sweeper and have time and cash, I hand it over, otherwise I drive by.
And what to do about the men who deliver food? Sometimes I make an order and the driver sends a message asking for directions. I send back the location, a photo of the building, a photo to show where my office is and simple written directions; he arrives in 25 minutes and receives a big tip.
But sometimes I make an order and the driver wants to make an opera. He will begin with three messages, a missed call and two voice messages. I send the information to no avail. First he will get to the office complex and send two messages that he is not allowed into the parking complex, so I have to write back that is not true. He enters, then he writes that he is not allowed to enter the building, so I have to write back that is not true. He comes into the building and there are a few more calls/ voice messages/ photos as he wanders around the floor I work on, despite me sending a photo. Finally he arrives outside my door and knocks – but refuses to open the door because that ís ‘not allowed.’ Of course it is allowed. Finally, 9 messages, 4 missed calls and 6 voice messages later – the food is on my desk. Do I tip him? I don’t want to. I really do not want to. But I am about to eat yummy food sitting at my desk in my air-conditioned office and he is going to go back to his un-air conditioned car and venture forth again to deliver food. So I tip him.
I hold with Tosha Silver – “it’s not my money” – but everyone needs to find their comfort level. Some give only to registered charities, some to anyone who asks. My level is that small bills and coins should not stay with me; they go back into circulation as soon as possible.
May we do all the good we can for all the people we can in all the ways we can for as long as we can.