Reflections from Salinas (and everywhere else)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I posted a few weeks ago part 1 and 2 about our trip up the California coastline to the Salinas Valley, and I have yet to do a third and final recap post. Well, that final volume is still to come, but what I have to say is still relevant. We were in Salinas for Easter weekend, and were blessed to be able to find a local small-town feeling kind of church to attend. We were also blessed to be able to drive all through the area and see the vast array of agriculture land, then drive a little further and see the ocean cliffs, and maybe spot a few whales out there. There were a few other things we noticed too, and this is something that I have been struggling to come to terms with the past few weeks and months.

Homelessness. There is so much homelessness in Salinas. Shopping carts filled with all one's possessions are present at practically every street corner, and so is a beggar asking for some spare change to buy some breakfast off the McDonald's Dollar Menu. Being the sin-nature humans we are, we might see one of these individuals and think less of them, or even worse see right through them - there's this ragged man in the way of this view of the hills! But let's think about it, seriously this time. All of man is made in His image, in God's image. We all hold intrinsic value and no two people are alike - even identical twins! We all have worth. God knew us before we breathed our first breath, he knows everything about us - even those things we are too shamed to admit. He sees us all. He even sees the beggar on the street corner, or the homeless sleeping by the dumpsters, too ashamed to scavenge for food in others' trash until night falls.

It was incredible and eye-opening to see this side of life all over the Salinas Valley. Homeless were literally everywhere you look - I have never seen a city or town or area that was so desolate, in many ways. Looking for work, looking for food, looking for life.

But many are looking for money. Now, I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but I have also seen many who say they are homeless with gold watches on their wrists and smartphones in their hands, begging for money, saying that food is a cost that's too much to bear. This is where  I draw the line. I gave it some thought and found that if you were really that desperate for money to buy food, you'd sell literally all that you have - including that gold watch and even the shirt off your back -to get something to eat that day. A kind of day-to-day existence. The Salinas Valley is agriculture-run --- there are hundreds of farms looking for workers. There are jobs out there, too, and one needs to make an effort to truly survive by their own hands, instead of rely on other to supply.

I have also personally witnessed a man be given a ten dollar bill outside of Walmart, then walk right into the register and buy a pack of smokes before heading back to his post outside. I do know that we live in a fallen world, and that's why this is present. And I also know that because of our sin, there are people out there who just plan to exploit others. The homeless man who is begging for money but has a gold watch on his wrist could just be one of many workers or actors, who pose as something they are not in order to scam money out of unsuspecting humans with good intentions. Yet he also may not be - but you do have to be aware. I know it happens. I know it's out there. So we have to be on our guard.

This is why I told myself long ago that I would never give out money: I'd give out necessities. Kind of like grab bags. I read a book last year called Seven by Jen Hatmaker, where she deciphers seven areas of her family's life in which they have too much - have no want - are excessive - and live like typical Americans, This includes money, food, housing, clothing, and more - yet these 4 are the basic needs we have, and needs that many others in this world are in desperate need of. I also read a book called Faithprints by Rebekah Montgomery last year where we yearn to find tangible ways to leave our "faithprints" on others, and bless others, by how we interact - giving to others with no expectance of a reward, return, or the like.

So these two thoughts come together here. Instead of giving money, we give food. We give our time, an ear, a lending hand. We give our excess - what we don't use, others can put to great use. Seven. Some fellowship is good, too.We invite others to our church, or if we feel very trusting we can even offer to take them home for dinner and treat them as a guest of honor. Faithprints.

Jesus' ministry said to bless others and give to the poor - this can be in tangible ways too, not just monetary. What I've come to find is that it is better to trust your wealth and monetary resources to the church or to a ministry such as Compassion or Mercy Ships - where you know it goes direct to the source - and to give your other pertinent resources - your time, food, and love - to the desolate in the streets. Because let's face it, people will post and ask for money, then turn around with a Starbucks cup in their hand and ask for food. It happens. But for those who are truly needy - well, wouldn't you think that they would take the food, water, and clothes you offer directly to them? If there was such a need, wouldn't this person feel thankful for anything at all that is offered, and not deny some crackers and Gatorade I offer? This is that thought that has bothered me since we were in Salinas, and it's something that I've wanted to put into practice. Because, yes, someone was asking for money for food, and when I offered a perfectly good sandwich and some Gatorade, it was denied. It truly makes me wonder how hungry, if at all, that person really was.

For instance, in a similar fashion, the last day we were in the Salinas Valley, we got lunch at Taco Bell (cause we were on vacation) and were walking back to our car. There was a man asking for money for his own lunch, so I instead offered my own taco to him instead. He declined. But was he truly hungry - and if he was wouldn't he take whatever food I offer, instead of looking specifically for money? Of which he can literally buy anything he wants, with a Walmart right up the road. You never know what someone would use that good-intentioned cash for - especially if it was given to them for free.

I'm not trying to be a Debbie downer here, just realistic of our sin nature. We live in a fallen world, and sadly, this is something that's present.  So now, every time  I see one in need, I offer hope. Specifically, I offer food and water, a few kind words, and say a prayer. Sometimes the individual is grateful, sometimes the individual just asks for money, over and over again. But that's all I can do, is give something tangible that I know will be used in the right way, then say a prayer and never overlook a beggar anywhere I go. Yes, see the best in others - but also guard yourself from being exploited, too. This is where that grab bag comes into play, and these are all things you can find at the dollar store: A tote/backpack with non-perishable foods, water, and a gift card to a restaurant.

This kind of grab bag for those in need you encounter on the streets is a concept I've found in many books I've read lately, and is really something thoughtful. Because if someone declines a gift like that - a bag full of food, water, and gift cards for more food - then are they really in that kind of need, or are they hiding something and trying to exploit their neighbor? I'm not so sure, though that itself is not for me to decide or judge on.  I can only put my best foot forward, and not ignore the hungry man beside me - look to bless him and others with such a gift and resource, instead.

So how do you look to bless others? Do you give to charities that feed the homeless, or do you do so directly? What have your interactions been like in giving and blessing others on the streets?


  1. I don't stop to help the homeless on the streets when I'm traveling alone (it just seems too big of a safety risk) but I remember being with my family and giving a homeless person some cheese crackers. My family doesn't give them cash, because like you said they could be buying alcohol or cigarettes with it.

  2. I came to the same conclusion a few years ago. I want to help people, and those who genuinely need help will accept it in whatever form-even if it isn't cash.

  3. This is definitely an interesting viewpoint, Katherine. We have a very significant homeless population here and you can't usually drive off post without meeting at least one or two. My hubs also goes with the idea of giving food but, for myself, I don't mind giving them money probably because when I was in middle school I met a homeless man who needed money for cancer treatment and all the food in the world wouldn't help him. I do love your heart for this topic though and I'd never thought of keeping a 'grab bag' in the car but that's such a great idea!


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