Beggars at Wal-Mart

Wyoming is beyond rural. About the only reason people come here when they have nothing, is on their way through. We’ve lived here 13 years, and have never seen a summer like this one.

We spent 3 years driving monthly to Denver for cancer treatment for our son. As we came off the freeway, there were sometimes people with signs standing at the end of the on-ramp where the light required the cars to stop. We were never prepared with more than the day’s needs, but we talked about what we might do if we could, and prayed for their wellbeing. They were an unusual sight to us, such a thing was extraordinarily rare in Wyoming.

A few years ago we began seeing the first people standing outside Wal-Mart in Laramie, where the driveway meets the street. It was still unusual enough we didn’t think about it much. We never saw it more than one or two times a year. But we thought about what we could do. Money wasn’t an option, we didn’t have it. Usually groceries were enough for the next week or so, and that was all. We don’t buy snack foods, or other quick fix, so there was rarely anything we could share that would help – I mean, an uncooked potato isn’t going to help you if you don’t have a stove.

This summer, it seemed they were everywhere. In every major town in Wyoming, there was a good chance you’d see someone standing on the corner, somewhere, holding a sign, or just standing there, hoping. I don’t like calling them “beggars”. Sometimes there just isn’t another single word that defines someone standing on the corner asking for help though.

LDS Doctrine teaches us that we should give as much as we are able, without judging. No matter what got them there, we are supposed to help. After all, everybody does stupid things that get them somewhere they didn’t expect to end up, and most of us need some help to pull ourselves out so we can change for the better.

We’ve always tried to be generous, but I don’t think we ever took it into the “give till it hurts” realm. We didn’t sacrifice to help. Sometime over the last year, we decided that we’d give EVERY time, if there was any way to do so. Most of the time, this summer, it has been easy. Squeezing out a bit more for someone else hasn’t even taken thought.

The last few weeks have been lean. We finally got a small paycheck today, with just enough money to pay a couple of obligations and get groceries for a few more days. We had the money budgeted and there was not room to add one more thing – in fact, we’d already scratched off some things we really could use. We have plenty of food in the house, we were just missing key items that we really needed.

As we neared Wal-Mart, we saw a figure on the corner. We didn’t bother to read the sign, that he was there was enough. I knew there was no money to do anything. Then I just said to the kids, “If we help him, we have to do without something. What are we going to scratch off our list?” We decided to eliminate the noodles – the kids were perfectly willing to do so, which was cool. We can do without noodles, since we have plenty of rice and potatoes, and we can make noodles if we really want them. That gave us just enough to get some crackers and cheese, and some hot chocolate mix. They went into a separate bag, and our daughter handed them out the window as we pulled up to the stop sign before leaving the parking lot.

I think this, more than anything, tells me we’ve entered a new era. One where we must not take certain things for granted. That people are on the corner begging in Wyoming is an alarming thing. That they are here in numbers high enough for us to notice, and feel that if we want to help each time we have the opportunity that we must always be prepared to do so, is significant.

And that is exactly what we’ve decided. We’ve decided that we want to be prepared to help, in whatever small way we can. That we never be unwilling to do SOMETHING, even if it is a tiny thing like cheese and crackers and hot chocolate mix. It has changed something in me. It has changed how I think about what I have, and what I need. It has made me want to be something more than I am.

The changing times hold much uncertainty. But I also think they hold many opportunities for us to better ourselves, and to help make our own corner of the world a little less selfish one.

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