Spare a little change


It was the stroller that caught my eye first as I exited the grocery store, my cart so heavy with food and supplies for my family that I could barely turn it. And from the stroller my eyes moved to the little girl’s legs peeking out from the seat. Then from the little girl feet to her mother sitting beside her, wearing jeans and a tank top, her dark, curly hair piled on top of her head in an attempt to seek some sort of relief from the Texas August heat.

Finally, as I pushed my cart past them, my gaze rested on the sign the mother held, as she simultaneously called out to me. Through the noise of the store’s alcove, I could only make out the words “help,” and “lost job.”

I stopped my cart next to her and searched my wallet for the change I knew wasn’t there. In this day and age, it’s a rare occasion that I actually have more than $.37 at any given time.

Panhandlers are a dime a dozen here in Austin. You’re likely to find one perched on just about every street corner during the day. I admit, I often hide behind my sunglasses and pretend to be busy with my phone if I’m caught at a stoplight next to one. I breathe a sigh of relief when the light turns green and I can drive off, escaping their pleading, sometimes judgmental stares.

But as I started loading up my big, comfortable SUV, something tugged at my heart. I viewed the bounty of food I was to able to take home to my family. Just because I didn’t have change didn’t mean that I couldn’t help this woman out.

I contemplated taking her a few oranges from the large box I had purchased. But why not take it one step further and go buy her some fresh fruit for her and her daughter, maybe throwing in a couple of bottles of cold water?

Tossing the rest of my groceries in the car, I quickly headed back up to the entrance, my mind going over the best options for my donation.

But she was gone. Vanished.

I approached a woman standing near the door, thumbing through her coupons. She hadn’t seen anyone.

Now I may be a little sleep deprived, but I know I didn’t imagine this woman and her little girl. It hadn’t even been five minutes, but she was nowhere to be found.

Feeling a little defeated, I walked back to my car, my heart still a little achey thinking of the pair. I pulled out of the parking lot, turning right towards the rest of the strip center instead of my normal left to the exit, and the way home. I was curious to see what else was in the shopping center. Turns out, not much.

My detour took me to a different exit out of the parking lot, and suddenly there she was! She had apparently been banished from the property by the store management. And I was pulling out right past her with no ability to stop without holding up traffic! Gah!

I pulled out into the road, turned the corner, and again entered the store’s parking lot, convinced that I was burning a week’s worth of gas in my determination to get to this woman, when it would have been so much easier just to stay the course and head home.

But my heart was telling me otherwise. My heart was telling me that out of all of the plentiful food I was hauling in my car, surely I could spare a few pieces of fruit.

I stopped close to their new spot, pulled out a few oranges and a couple of bananas from the back of my SUV, and walked over to the woman and her daughter. I didn’t have any change, but I hoped she could use the food. She thanked me and blessed me, her tired eyes not showing much emotion.

I knelt down to her little girl and offered her a smile. She couldn’t have been much younger than Rachel and Claire. She sat obediently in her stroller, her hair damp from sweat, a sullenness in her shy eyes. I said hello, and that I hoped she could eat the fruit. I didn’t know what else to say.

So I got back in my car and drove away. Away to my house with my food, my air conditioning, my family, and my “things” I am lucky to have.

I’ll admit, I wondered what people thought when they saw me giving that woman food. Helping her. Or to some, encouraging her panhandling. I wondered how many people rolled their eyes or muttered under their breath as they passed her, avoiding her gaze, not wanting to get involved?

I could have just driven home. I could have said, “Oh well.” I could have even said, “It’s not my problem.”

But how easily it was that I instantly pictured one of my own children in that stroller, sad, sweaty, and hungry. In need of help. Or just a little compassion.

You can call me a sucker if you want.

I’d give you an orange if you wanted one too.

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Leigh Ann Torres
Writer, artist, wife, cook, maid, bookkeeper, mom to twins plus one...all around genie in a bottle, except you only get one wish, and it has to be reasonable.
  1. I think you did a wonderful thing!
    The reason she needs money (hopefully) is to purchase food, so you just skipped the middle man.
    What a wonderful world we would live in if we all shared our resources, like you, instead of hanging on to them closely like greedy fools.

    • Thank you, friend. A lot of times I can just go about my business, but for some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman. Had something not told me to take a different route out of the parking lot, thus leading me to her, I would have likely had a heavy heart all day.

  2. You did a sweet caring thing. I hope others did see you and used your example to do what they could to help.
    I too usually walk by but occasionally something tells me to stop and do what I can. I once gave everything I had in my wallet. $28. I did not miss it and the appreciation I received was well worth the money. I still wonder about that person from time to time, even though they’re many 1000’s of miles away.

  3. You have such a beautiful heart Leighann, and you did a beautiful thing. We need more people like you in the world!

    • Thank you, Alison. I just really hope they appreciated the gesture, even if it wasn’t money.

  4. I love that you didn’t give up, even when it wasn’t easy or convenient for you. I could have passed by without much thought before I had a child, but situations like hers break my heart now that I am a parent. I am sure the fruit did help, but I am even more sure that the gesture is what makes the greatest impact.

  5. Inspiring act of kindness Leigh Ann, thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you! I hope I not only helped her out but inspired others to give it a second thought.

  6. Good job with two thumbs up. I hope this family finds shelter, food and work. This Texas heat is unbearable. Add in the horrid economy…disaster right around the corner for most any family. Thank you for helping out one of just these families.

    • It was definitely my pleasure. It feels so good to give, especially when it’s from the heart and not because we think we need to.

  7. I think you did the right thing too. You never know what place people are in when you help them and you help could have changed a course for her. Sometimes, helping a panhandler is the right thing. This day it was.

  8. I think that it is great that you did something for this woman. You have such a kind heart and you probably made her day.

    • I hope so, Jessica. I would have been thinking about her for the rest of the day had I not.

  9. I guess I would say that I think your family is very fortunate to have a few less oranges

  10. Your description of the little girl broke my heart. The empathy with which I was flooded as soon as I became a mother never fails to amaze me, often leaving me a little breathless. I do the same thing as you – I picture my own daughter. And then a knot forms in my throat and tears well up behind my eyes.

    Children don’t deserve hardship. They just don’t. It’s not fair.

    You did a very good thing.