That man, that woman, that couple who look like theyve lived hard years are sometimes hard to pass by. Panhandlers work intersections and curbsides in Anchorage; black letters on brown cardboard are a common sight. Many of us have spared change or a dollar bill or two even when we know better.
Fact is, much of that money goes for drink or dope, not for a meal, or bus fare, or even cigarettes.
We dont give to keep people on the street. We give to take the edge of the street off, to offer an act of kindness, to recognize the humanity of someone with whom we have trouble making eye contact as we idle at the light.
Or we give because we look at what theyre doing and know we wouldnt want to be in their shoes. People sometimes call them bums. And some of the panhandlers know full well, as the stare into windshields of people going home to dinner, that those people dont want to see them, have in their minds swept them off the curbs they stand on.
We give because we see that even for these people, theres no such thing as a free lunch. You have to work a corner, even if all you do is pace and register the pity or contempt in the eyes of the more fortunate.
One way or another, the occasional muffin or the greenback for cheap liquor come dear.
Well, theres a better way to give.
Last week, Mayor Dan Sullivan kicked off a renaissance of an old campaign, Change for the Better. The goal is make panhandling a no-wage proposition. Its partly to get panhandlers off the streets.
More importantly, its to direct our will to help where it can do the most good.
At www.changeforthebetteralaska.org, five organizations are listed front and center that provide direct help to street people in Anchorage. Those outfits are efficient, effective and kind in delivering just the kind of help most of us hope to give at the corner.
No matter how much we give at the corner, we cant make the street a good place to live.
But if we give to those people who help with food, shelter, counseling and a safe place to be, we give some of our struggling neighbors a fighting chance rather than money for another bottle.
Thats giving for keeps.
And on the street? How about a decent greeting, or at least a nod that says you recognize someone is standing there.
Want to help the panhandler? Give to those who can truly help.