COMMENTARY 764.1: Choosing Caring Over Judging (The Ethics of Giving to Panhandlers)

Every time my wife and I leave a Lakers game we’re confronted by half a dozen or more beggars with outreached cups. Usually we try to avoid eye contact and pass quickly – annoyed rather than moved. I’ve got lots of justifications for this callous indifference:

“It’s a scam.”

“Surely, these people have other options to begging.”

“They’ll probably use the money for drugs or alcohol.”

“How can I give to one or two and not all of them?”

“If I give tonight, will I have to give every other night?”

“If I give money, I’ll just encourage more people to be beggars.”

When all is said and done, it’s a rather shameful exhibition of my ungenerous nature. Regardless of their character or hidden motives, these people are much less fortunate than I am. Why am I so unwilling to help? A dollar or two would be meaningful; $5 or $10 would be momentous.

The truth is, if every night I gave each one a dollar or even five, it wouldn’t affect my lifestyle one bit. I spend more than that on snacks and parking. If I made it a point to carry a bunch of ones and fives, I could, without fanfare, provide a little bit of peace or pleasure to people who need it much more than I.

As I write this, I am resolved to choose caring over judging. Yet there is a lurking self-doubt: Will I really follow through or just find more reasons not to help? Perhaps some of you are also willing to commit to kindness. If so, we can provide moral support for each other. Let me know what you think.

After all, our character is revealed not by our best intentions, but by our consistent actions.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

For another good commentary, read The Ultimate Gift.

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Comments 97

  1. Michael, good thoughts. For me the issue is not so much about “caring” vs “judging.” I believe that we are asked to Love one another and we must commit to this decision and act on it (we must care and show that we do). I also believe that we are asked not to judge one another; that is His perogative. So, for me the issue is how to best be of Service to those who ask for and need our help. Surely, we can give direct material support. However, at best this is a temporary remedy. In a very short while, the beneficiary will need us again. The long term way to Serve those who are in need is to understand the cause for their condition and find a permanent solution. Unfortunatley, this approach may be outside our individual capacity. So, the short term “fix” of a donation is at least something…. The long term transformation from poverty to sulf-sufficiency should be our collective goal — I believe I know what to do about it! But, I don’t have the authority to implement my strategy. So, I pray and give what little I can. I agree with you: It’s not enough, but it’s better than nothing. Respectfully, Pat

    1. Patrick, I loved your comment. If you have a solution to this wide-spread problem, please share it. Collectively we may be able change this problem…how good would that feel? I agree with other posts, that relate to panhandlers being druggies/crooks. If a person knows they’re going to a game/public event maybe they can take the time before they go to print little cards with helpful information to give out. At least then people may feel like they are helping without guilt and/or compromising Christian values.

    2. pan handling brings out the feelings we all have. I am living on welfare (two years ago I was also homeless) but I often “donate”. However I usually try to buy food for those individuals rather than provide money since that gives me some control over those individuals. Perhaps that is unfair. However the best solution is to give generously to charities (in this case which provide for homeless individuals). Yes I know that many charities are scams themselves, but that is still probably the most efficient means to helping others. There is no easy answer especially with the country in a depression, but that is my best guess at a solution. I also let a local homeless person stay in my apt during the rainy days and I even buy him food occasionally.

    3. Adam & Eve bankrupted the human race with original sin or disobedience. They inherited millions at the beginning (were perfect) but squandered it all and the consequences of that can be seen right up to the present. Seeing people on the street begging is one result, but you see them and now the heart (feelings) are involved. The truth is: We don’t deserve ANYTHING. (It’s only because of God’s ‘undeserved kindness’ that we do have something. Jesus died a painful death (torture) for us (to remedy our situation), & God (Jehovah) , he could have stopped it.)

  2. How about researching service providers in the area that these people can go to for help with housing, food, and medical services. You could let these people know where the providers are. Additionally, keeping hold of any left over snacks or drinks that you have from the game helps. And if you have any toiletries from hotels you’ve stayed in, you could take a couple of bags of those with you. Socks are also hugely appreciated by people who live on the streets, for reasons I’m sure you can imagine. There are usually many ways to help that don’t involve money, and doing that ensures a better chance at long-term survival.

  3. I think like you. I am never going to miss the few dollars I am able to give to the panhandlers I come across. Each one of them is a child of God and, for Christians, at least Episcopalians, it is part of our baptismal promise “to seek and serve Christ in all persons”. We aren’t given the choice to pick and choose.

    1. Margaret:
      I agree. They are my brothers and sisters and I am ashamed whenever I pass someone by who needs help. I will endeavor to be better about giving at least something to these poor souls. Before people judge, they should put themselves in the other person’s skin for a moment: how would you feel if you were the one holding the cup out?

  4. I agree with you Mr. Josephson. I usually rely on my “gut feeling” to tell me if some ome is truly in need, but that’s not always accurate. I suggest buying $5 gift certificates to fast food restaurants.

    However lat month i was aproaced at work by a lady who asked for money because she was behind in her rent. I was unable to give her anything since I really did not have anything on me at that moment. One month later to the day she approached me again, in the same spot, with the same story. When I told her she had approached me 4 weeks earlier she ran away – so those who say there are unscrupulous panhandlers are correct. That stated, I still believe we should give whenever possible. I would rather risk giving to someone who is taking advantage of my giving nature, than not give to anyone and loose the opportunity to really help someone who badly needs whatever small amount I can give.

    Thank you for your worfs, they truly inspired me.

  5. Michael, I agree we need to care for the less fortunate, but your commentary reveals that you are uninformed. After a day of begging, many of those “less fortunate” drive home in their new Lexus or other car that I will likely never afford. Most of them DO use the money for drugs or alcohol! These are not just stereotypes. This is from my observation. My community has seen an incredible influx of homeless because of the services provided to them by our local homeless center. The law abiding homeless are not those out begging. By giving the homeless that are begging money or food… you are actually doing them a disservice. You are feeding their addictions and perpetuating their criminal behavior while making yourself feel good. Do the research. Observe. Talk to the cops who deal with them every day. If you really want to help, find a reputable organization that provides services to the homeless and other disadvantaged. Don’t take the easy, lazy way out.

    1. Don – you are right on: the money is more for the “good feelings” that the giver gets than actual help for the truly needy. Giving perpetuates the model & doesn’t improve the situation of those in need.

  6. I still have a hard time giving to panhandlers. Alot of excuses, saftey is my first one! We have allot of homless here and sad to say some are very ill.
    I gave food once, I went home and made a meal and took it back to someone who had a sign need food. He threw it at me and wanted money. Wow, I think you must be careful. I dont think saftey is a bad excuse. As a society we need to do more. We have our misson I help with and I work with the poor here allot, but supporting panhandling is not my personal choice.

  7. I often smile or nod but rarely do I give money, as I am often strapped for cash myself. I have given food if I have some handy and it is wrapped securely. I used to feel bad for panhandlers, assuming that if they had other options they certainly would take advantage of a chance to better themselves. However, I discovered that a relative of mine often panhandles as his preferred method of “earning” a living. My relative is a young, healthy, intelligent man who chooses not to better himself but to rely on the compassion of strangers. He has been seen holding a sign stating that he is a veteran. This is completely false. The thought of this turns my stomach and makes me wonder how many other able bodied people find this a convenient way to pick up each cash. I think Pat is on to something, sometimes prayer is all we can offer.

    1. I agree that some/many of the panhandlers choose this life and prefer it to the hard work of having a regular job. I served Thanksgiving dinner at a soup kitchen once and sat with the men who regularly eat there. At the table where I sat they were mostly/all disenfranchised people who “didn’t like having a boss”! I couldn’t believe it. Going to to a job everyday is hard work, and I would rather support the person with a low-paying job who is trying their best than the person who doesn’t like to work because it’s hard. I don’t give to panhandlers because I believe that I am giving to them through my taxes that go to social service agencies, and I don’t believe that those who make a choice for that life need extra help. They have chosen not to work or support themselves.

      1. Lynn, some of those people who “didn’t like having a boss” are ex-mental patients who lost their care when Regan closed all of California’s state mental hospitals. They are not able to keep a job because of their mental illness. We need to be more careful of whom we put in the Governor’s seat.

  8. Here’s an idea: Instead of handing out dinero, hand a bottle of bottled water– they can easily be purchased at any big box store. Rubber band a small paper with a motivational or scriptural note attached Many of the homeless and pan handlers do not have a source for potable fresh water, and a bottle of water is just as much a necessity as cold hard cash. On the bottles I hand out, the notes contain information as to our near by church outreach program, the way to get there and the phone number…..who knows how this may be of help at just the right time to a person in need. Perhaps they thirst for more than just water, they thirst for direction away from a self-defeating, rootless existence.

  9. I disagree. You’re not doing the beggars any favors by giving them money or food. It just perpetuates their handicap. They are scamming you just as much as anybody who steals from you. Those beggars have regular channels which they can use to get food and shelter from the government. There are shelters and food lines available in every city. All they use this extra cash for is for drugs or booze. My late husband cared for a lot of these homeless patients in his psychiatric practice. They shunned the appropriate channels for finding help, but went to some public places where they rakes in hundreds of dollars a day from the gullible. It just perpetuated their mental illness to do this.

    1. Of late I am feeling much compassion for the many homeless that I see on the street. Giving food and water is a good idea, maybe food cards too. My mom kept granola bars in her purse to hand out since she didn’t have money to hand out. (I was blessed with a truly loving and generous mother!) There are agencies that can help people in need but in urban areas they are are often in the most unsafe neighborhoods. Getting assistance usually requires a modicum of conformity. Not all people are able to comply, especially the mentally ill. So maybe these folks really do need money. I know I do! In today’s world money is something we cannot do without. It’s possible that the cash will be used for liquor or drugs… but on the other hand those extra dollars might provide someone with a shower, a hamburger or a clean bed for the night. So tonight I must remind myself: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

  10. Wow…I was afraid you’d say, “Don’t do it…don’t give ’em anything…not ONE DIME!!!” That’s a mean attitude! These guys and gals are much less fortunate than many of us. “Give ’em a break”….”give ’em a ‘love gift'”…..just ask ’em not to spend it on booze or cigarettes and use it well. $5 once in a while isn’t going to break most of us. Show your love of your fellow humans…as Jesus said, “Do it for the least of these and you do it for ME.” You’re giving to God when you give something to “the least of these”! And, never forget, “There but for the grace of God go I.” OK….where do I get some $5 bills so I’ll be prepared? And, it is a “win-win” situation….”feel good endorphins” have been shown to ocurr in the recipient…and the donor….BOTH will feel better as a result of giving something. It’s a fact. Go for it! Do it! You’ll feel MUCH better giving than passing them with no help given. It’s a fact! :o)

  11. How bad were this people to others that they do not have relatives one generation up (their parents and their parents’ siblings), or their own sisters and brothers, or one generation below them (perhaps their children or the nieces and nephews, or grandchildren, that would help them?
    I know I can count on any of my relatives, up or down a generation, to provide me with support if I fall on bad times. But let’s move one circle outward from relatives if they had screwed up so often or so much, or mistreated their family so bad that they cannot get help from them. Let’s move to their friends. If I had no family, I know I could count on a dozen friends who would take me in until I got my feet on the ground, and vice versa. I have loved my family and my friends and established relationships with them. These people apparently have not treated others so wellor they would have at least one person who would be willin to help them. I think about that when I see them. Have they been so bad to EVERYONE in their lives that they don’t have no safety net to fall back on?

  12. I am so surprised at this commentary, Mr. Josephson!

    When I learn that the head lady in charge of the Red Cross in California receives a salary of nearly $400,000 a year (note that I didn’t say “earns”), I am amazed that people still donate to the Red Cross. I much prefer to help individual people that I can see are needy. The way I look at is that I’d much prefer they ask for my help outright than steal my purse or break into my house.

    All moneys given to organized charities pay out the money first of all to employees. How many $10.00 or $50.00 donations does it take to pay everyone’s salary before ANYBODY, however needy or desperate, sees one penny?

    Who knows where the money goes? Maybe for tobacco or drugs, but my karma is improved because I gave when I was asked, without judging. If the recipient chooses to spend it on tobacco or drugs, they are making their own bad karma. I get (karmic!) points for the giving. No points are given for judging and refusing to contribute!

    1. I’m with you on the Red Cross! Every time there is a disaster I hear the ca-ching of the Red Cross cash registers, they are raking in the cash! And your money rarely if ever goes to the people of whom you are thinking when you donate. Not even the same disaster, maybe not even the same country! Please don’t give your money to the Red Cross! Do a little homework and get your money right to the place you want it to go. I know you have a computer! ; )

  13. I give what I can as often as I can as I say to myself “God bless this person and but for the grace of God there go I.” Just as you say I spend more than that on frivolous things….

  14. My focus is on street beggars particularly those who have children with them (a marketing advantage to increase their returns). Most beggars I deal with are very smart – they beg because they earn more tax free than they do working a job – so in this sense they see it as a day’s work. They are very aware of the best times to beg – outside a stadium is a pretty good place for a return in a short period of time. And if you stop to get to know them and their backgrounds, many of them in one area are related to each other, and they have been begging over generations – so they know the look to have and they know the ‘ropes’. I find them most interesting particularly the beggars that are social and have a piece out of those that pass by. They ave a sub-culture that the like being part of, and they have territorial ‘rights’ to the area they beg in. I don’t give money to beggars but I get to know them, go visit them at their homes, help them to fill in forms, get their children off the streets (my main ‘job’) and into school, get sponsorship for the education of their children, drive them to their appointments as a way of getting to know them. I love what I do!

  15. I also get approached by panhandlers quite often. Sometimes I give a dollar or two, but just as often I don’t. I am seldom filled with guilt because, as a high school teacher and coach at an inner-city school, I freely spend my own money all of the time to help people in need: school supplies, textbooks, sports equipment, awards, etc. I also donate money to students for meals and assorted personal emergencies, and use my own gas to drive students home after games, etc. I’d rather donate money to needy students I know, than donate it to a panhandler who may or may not be on the up-and-up. When I tell panhandlers that I am a teacher and coach who gives to students, many of them understand and move on to the next person. Those who get belligerent with me despite what I say prove that they probably weren’t deserving of my generosity after all…

  16. Oops! As soon as I posted previously, I realized that I had another thought: Michael’s column made me think of the movie “Schindler’s List”. I remember a scene near the end when Schindler weeps despite all of the lives he has saved, despairing that he could have done more… In life, the decent among us will do all that we can and still feel that it wasn’t enough. Yet, despite our many acts of kindness and the knowledge that individuals CAN make a difference, the reality is that our singular acts of generosity will never be enough to rid the world of hunger, poverty, and homelessness. Whether we choose to join a larger coalition addressing these issues or simply choose to continue acting alone, and while we choose “caring” over “judging”, we must be careful not to be too hypercritical of ourselves. Somehow, we must find peace in the realization that, yes, we are doing all we can when we can, and sadly — it will never be enough.

  17. I have served 22 years in public service and have been exposed to the homeless / panhandling population almost daily. Trust me, volunteer at your local shelter or donate to your local shelter / church groups who help with this problem. About 95% of your homeless population have a drug or alcohol problem and this is where your spare change is going. Making a regular contribution to groups that support and help with this problem and your money will mean a lot more.

  18. Check out, if you can, the short (18 minutes) movie ‘I could be your grandmother’, available from It’s about a Parisian corporate lawyer who creates a connection with the homeless and is based on a true story. It was written and directed by Bernard Tanguy.

  19. It was misting rain and I had missed my train in Washington, D.C. I was sitting on my suitcase, hunkered under a raincoat, waiting for my friend to come pick me up, when the thought came to me that this was an ideal time to feel what it would be like to be a pan-handler. I finished my yogurt and held out the empty cup to those passing. Nearly all would stare and then avoid eye contact. This made me feel that I was a nobody and rejected. This taught me, even if I don’t drop in money, to smile and acknowledge them. After awhile an old crippled black man came over and told me I was not in a good place and he would show me where to go for more money. That gesture of help and kindness melted my heart and so….dear friend, wherever you are, thank you and God bless and keep you in the hollow of His hand.

  20. It seems the Bible is quite clear on this –
    Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. (Luke 6:30)
    It doesn’t mean we are to support them but quite often it means the difference between their next meal and going hungry. How many of us are but a few paychecks away from facing a similar fate if our spirit is also destroyed in the process? Freely it has been given to us, freely give. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

  21. There was an episode of the news program 20/20 (many years back) which followed a man who taught a panhandling school in New York City. He discussed with the news show what he did and showed them an example – dressed in panhandling clothes (old, with holes), he had his limo drive him to 5th Avenue and drop him off. A few minutes later, he began begging, and had made close to $1,000 when the limo came to pick him up an hour later.

    That being said, you do have to talk with the people who are begging – some have very good reasons for doing so. But there are many others who find it the easiest way to get money without much effort. Make a concerted effort to talk with them, and you can know in a very few minutes the ones who are there because of circumstances beyond their control, and those who are out begging because they don’t want to “work” for their money.

    1. I was moved by what you said, but I’m afraid you are not considering all the facts.
      Some people can tell a very convincing “hard luck story,” probably even the fellow you saw on TV. Many of these people are liars.
      I must tell the readers that I have been on both sides of this issue many times. I grew up in an upper-middle class suburban neighborhood where we turned up our noses at homeless people. (“Drunks,” as we called them.)
      In my adult life, I have hardly ever been successful enough to afford accommodations for myself, so I have slept in a few parking lots and so forth. I have also been involved with a rescue mission whose purpose was to provide homes for people who have none.
      I have more of a question than a point because I still struggle with this issue all the time. If I have only $10 in the world and I see a guy digging out of the trash for tonight’s dinner, what is my obligation?
      If all the “legitimate” charities have executives that may or may not earn their portion of donated goods, does this motivate my giving or not giving?
      I hope someday to have a millionth of the impact on the world as Mr. Josephson.

  22. You are willing to use the money it takes for two tickets to a Lakers game and balk at giving a few dollars to a beggar?! Think how many hungry people could be fed with the money frivolously spent on entertainment like sports tickets. Let’s take it a step further. What if the overpaid athletes and coaches donated a measly one percent of their income to feed the hungry? What an impact that would have.

  23. Michael, Although, I see your point and at one time I was of the caring for these individuals. But all it took was one time for me to stop giving cash to the panhandlers. One day, while walking to the US Post Office there was a gentlemen sitting outside the steps looking down-n-out (clothing looking it hadn’t been washed, shoes tattered, etc.) and he asked me for some money. In the past, I have given the panhandlers who sat in that same spot some money whenever I came to the Post Office. This time I didn’t have any to give. As I walked up the stairs and turned to walk into the Post Office, at the corner of my eye I saw another panhandler running over to the seated panhandler and crouch down in front of him. As I came into the building I stopped at the window to peek out at what the reason for the hurry was for. Much to my surprise, the other panhandler pulled out a tightly wound roll of bills from his inside jacket pocket that measured approximately 3″-4″ (it filled his grown hand)! From that day forward I haven’t given any money to any panhandler. Regardless, I haven’t loss sight of my previous generosity as there are times where I’ve purchased a burger/fries/drink or whatever food from the establishment I was going to be dining at for some panhandlers in lieu of giving cash. Even in my attempted generosity in these situations seemed to not satisfy the panhandlers. I had a panhandler turn me down for food as he wanted just the cash. I told him that I was sorry that I could only provide him food. Does that mean he was going to use the money for drugs/alcohol? I don’t know, but at least I can sleep at night knowing that I didn’t contribute to that possible scenario. Thanks for your commentaries…keep them coming!

  24. I have enjoyed reading all the various responses to this commentary because like all of you, I struggle with this dilemma. Back in 1995, I was on a temporary assignment with the military in Tallinn, Estonia. This was soon after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The stark contrast between the

  25. Some wonderful comments have been left on this article. We can never do enough, and we need to work with coalitions and with individuals. The one thing I am aware of that I would question is the notion that it is easier to be a panhandler than to work for a living. When I see people beside the expressway ramps asking for money, I have to believe that my very challenging job is still easier than what they are doing.

  26. The research on panhandling suggests that most panhandlers are not homeless, but choose panhandling as their vocation. Many cities grapple with this problem, some very aggressively (NYC), some very creatively. Denver, for example, has old parking meters converted to donation receptacles that funnel donations to charities that provide needed services for those who are actually homeless. While I appreciate the feelings of altruism expressed by those commenting and I definitely believe in following religious teachings about helping those in need, I believe more actual HELP is provided by giving to the charitable activities who assist the homeless. Here’s an illuminating article on the topic…

  27. Sorry.. I don’t agree with you on this one. Maybe it’s where I live, but I’ve tried to give panhandlers food to hear they are vegetarian, or just want money, or what am I- cheap?.. etc. I’ve given money and twice been called a “sucker” as I walked away. I choose now to give to legitimate charities in my community instead.

  28. You ended your commentary with the thought that our character is revealed by our consistent actions. Thus, it is not just the panhandlers around Staples Center (where the Lakers play), but panhandlers all over the city for whom you need to carry those spare ones and fives (so you are being consistent). Unfortunately, in some ways, providing them with money does put you in the role of a facilitator. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Midnight Mission, one of the skid row facilities downtown, I would suggest that your money (and time) would be better spent with organizations that are involved with caring for the homeless on a larger scale. While many of these panhandlers are simply people who have lost the roofs over their heads, a very large number of them have underlying psychological and substance abuse problems that need to be overcome before they can re-enter society. They typically have coexistent legal problems and families that have disappeared from their lives. I would propose that we think about the former as “houseless” and the latter as “homeless”; giving the latter a few dollars to support them for another day simply allows them to put off that reckoning process. It makes no more sense to give them a few dollars in a random way than it would be to give an alcoholic a bottle of beer.

  29. I give or not as I am moved to do at any given time, and as my ready resources are available. I do not judge or worry myself about what they may actually be spending it on. My perspective is that we are blessed by a generous God for our kind actions – whether the recipient is truly in need or being dishonest is his/her own issue to answer for and will not change the fact that I, in good faith, extended a kindness.

  30. I try to always see the panhandler and regard him or her as a person, a real human being, not just a “beggar.” If I have money, I give it to them. And I usually give them what they ask for. If they ask for $2 or more, I try to give it to them if I have it. I saw a man in a wheelchair by the freeway with a sign saying he was a hungry and homeless. I went to to the convenience market and bought him a sandwich, some crackers and a bottle of water and took it back to him. I hope he enjoyed them. I am blessed to have so much, it pains me to see people with so little. I hope by giving to brighten their days just a little and to let them know that people do care about them.

  31. I prefer to donate to the San Diego Rescue Mission who works with men and women to get them off the streets and onto a productive life. They have a proven track record, require a commitment from their clients and I can be assured the money is well spent.

  32. Michael;
    I, for one, am one doorknob away from being homeless and could, one day be one of those asking for a handout! I have helped those in need when I had the means to do so, however, it was only done when I didn’t feel a ‘threat’ of sorts from the person asking. As to what the money(s) will be spent on, I could care less in that I consider from where this person (panhandler) came from (financially, emotionally, spiritually, etc.) with the thought of my own circumstances in mind; my donation will give this person the means by which they can find something that sustains them. Be it alcohol, drugs, sex or food, it is without prejudice that I hope I am providing something that removes them from their

  33. If you give them money to make yourself feel better, you may be doing more harm than good as the liquor stores are full of these folks buying alcohol and destroying their lives with the money you give. Better to carry healthy snacks and directions to the nearest shelter.

  34. I have those same feelings every time I am confronted with people asking me for money. I was less cynical about their motives when I was younger, but have become more callous as I’ve aged. It was my youngest son who brought me back to a caring place. We lived in Puerto Rico for a few years and there are many people begging for money on street corners. It made my son very sad to see this. He told me that even a penny would make them happy. Unfortunately, I could see that many of them were on drugs. I could see the damaged veins popping out of their arms. We lived in Los Angeles for a brief time as well and again my son would feel so heartbroken for all the homeless he would see sleeping on the street. My husband and son were confronted in Chicago a few months ago by a very unscrupulous man asking for money for very specific reasons. My husband gave him money but later regretted not only giving the man money but, putting our son in what could have been an unsafe situation. I’ve decided that rather than give money I will give food. It is my goal to keep packaged food in my car and hand this out. We no longer live in a community where we are confronted with homeless or beggars but we do our best when visiting any big city to show our son that we can help in ways besides giving money.

  35. My husband and I disagree on this subject but I don’t mind giving a dollar here or there because it is the sharing that is more important to me than the concern over how the recipient will spend it. I agree that it is often knee-jerk reaction to judge people in this situation, and I am sure these are plenty of dishonest ones out there, but I am not going to let those ones stop me from doing the right thing.

  36. For years I’ve felt the way you to, Michael. However, not long ago, someone said to me that even if the person I give to is disingenuous, whatever I’ve given no longer has anything to do with me – it’s now between God and the one I gave the money too. Jesus said that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, that you do unto me. It’s up to God to be the judge, not us.

    1. I agree with you Meg. Michael, a few years back you had a story of a dad who convinced his co workers to give with the story of his son having cancer requiring large financial commitment. A week later the co workers, save one, were upset after finding out it was a scam. The only coworker who was not upset and was actually happy at the news only remarked, “Oh, I am so glad the little boy does not have cancer”. I so badly strive to be that person. To give unconditionally! That being said, do it with safety in mind and give to those organizations that truly serve the homeless and not their own corporate pockets!

  37. I agree with all the comments about not passing judgement. That is not our calling. We ARE called to be “cheerful givers.” I too have given and… have passed-by as well. My understanding of God’s will is that we can never really fathom our role in His will. However, we should be conducting our lives in a way that draws us to a closer relationship to help us determine our role. Without judgement, give if that is your compulsion felt at the time, He may be working thorugh you at that very moment. If you are compelled not to give, without judging the situation, you may very well be performing your role in His will. The ethcial thing here is to go with what you feel in your heart at the moment while not passing judgement on your actions or situation because…

  38. When I was a child of about 5 or 6, my mother worked for the local county school district. We would walk to her office and we would pass a man that was “selling” pencils. My mother didn’t need a pencil, but she bought one every time she passed him. It got me in the “habit” of buying a pencil every time I passed him to the point where she didn’t buy them anymore. By her simple act of kindness, she taught me how to give, she helped a man out that didn’t have as much as we did and I learned the 3 R’s with the help of those pencils. That was 52 years ago. I’d say that things have changed some since then. These days when I see beggars I often pass them up, mostly because I don’t carry much cash. The sad truth is people are still needy, social programs don’t reach everyone and all of us should learn to have a more giving nature. We shouldn’t judge, we don’t know the circumstances for their need. We can guess, but ultimately we don’t know. We have to decide which choice is the right one at the time. I hope we all choose wisely.

  39. Many kindhearted people are skeptical when it comes to helping street people because not all street people are the real deal. Concern for our own safety when reaching out is also a valid concern. We shouldn’t let skepticism interfere with our well intended acts of kindness towards street people. I believe God wants us to think and love outside our boxes with this population of people. Sensible caution is always good. Responding to God’s call for us to help the poor is what He wants us to do. I have in the past had a tendency to turn my head and look the other way when someone with a cardboard sign came into my view. I don’t know why exactly I didn’t or couldn’t look at them. Maybe it was because I thought there were other places they should go for help. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to stare suffering in the face. Maybe it was because I felt a little guilty that I had what they needed. Or maybe it was because I didn’t want to imagine Jesus standing behind them beckoning me to approach. I don’t know. What I do know is that 1 1/2 months ago I decided to buy a street woman a meal in McDonalds and sit down and talk to her for over an hour. It didn’t take me long at all to realize that there was a name behind that sign and that the person I was sitting across from had a heart and soul that was important to God. I have spent time and money on this person on several occassions now, have talked to her about God’s love for her and helped her work on her sense of worth. She is taking steps now to follow God and working at trying to get out of the situation she fell into. She isn’t proud of where she is and wants a better life. Getting out of the deep hole that she’s in won’t be easy, but God can do all things and she needs our prayers and help, just as all the others like her do. My eyes have been opened, but more importantly my heart has been stretched. I have realized that while I may be better off than street people, I am not better than they are. In God’s eyes we are all equal. Kindness is never wrong. Yes there are community services out there to help homeless people, but an act of kindness or putting yourself in a mentoring role is quite possibly the catalyst someone needs to succeed. So go out there. Take a
    chance. You might be surprised at how rewarding it is for you.

  40. Michael,

    i made a snap judgment when I read the essay title. Ouch! I found the essay to line up with my position (I, too, used to get aggravated). Unfortunately, life with one in college and two competitive athletes can leave me wondering how the finances in our own family are going to work. I had a creative thought one day as I was dejunking old blankets, coats, etc. I may not be able to afford to give monetarily, but I am abundantly blessed in other ways. I put the blankets and coats in my trunk. My daughter carries extra snacks in her car. Time is another resource I have to give in serving others in need.

  41. It is not always safe to pull out a wallet and give money on the street, especially for a woman alone. I respond to the person, smile and greet them. If I have food, I give it. If not, I sometimes buy the person a meal if I can or at least talk a moment if we’re in a safe area and there’s good lighting. My family and I prefer to give money to the services in my community that feed the hungry and house the homeless. That way, we know people are getting most of what we donate.

  42. Jeanneb43 is correct. There are sources of food and shelter for the homeless, however they must be sober to stay at a mission or other facility. I think it’s great that you have so much that a few bucks here and there don’t matter. I’ve been unemployed for over a year (I’ve been merged, acquired and reorganized away from 4 very good jobs in 9 years) and a few bucks here and there do matter–very much, thank you, but I haven’t sunken to begging. Like many commenters here I’ve given food to the “homeless” only to have them scorn my largesse. I’ve also given food to some who were very grateful. Years ago the Wall Street Journal surreptitiously followed a legless beggar who panhandled on the Capitol steps only during months of temperate weather. They discovered he owned a large home in Florida where he wintered. Are all homeless scammers? Of course not, but why reward those who are? True needy folks have and exercise their options. Gullible, guilt-ridden suckers like you only make it harder on everyone, including the legitimately needy.

  43. How about giving to the Salvation Army or other such organisation offering food, clothing, shelter, and health services ? Then carry cards offering the address to the place & directions to get there? I do not believe in depriving the needy of basic survival necessities. But I cannot, in good conscience, subsidize or tacitly approve of alcoholism or drug addiction by endorsing it with cash.

  44. Michael,
    One book that helped me with this delimma was: Under the Overpass, by Mike Yankoski. He and a college age teen became homeless for several months (on purpose) to learn what homeless people deal with and how others react and help or ignore them. Very insightful. Now when I am any place where their might be beggars or homeless, I carry fastfood coupons in an outside pocket of my purse. Mike suggests this, since it is true that some will use money for drugs. Thanks for bringing up the topic. Judy T.

  45. As a retired Deputy Sheriff in LA County I’ve seen my share of panhandelers and was routinely called to handle them since in is against the law to do so. It was enlightening to me to find that the vast majority were not indigent persons down on their luck, but persons with drug addictions desperate enough to beg. If they are desperate enough to beg you can imagine that they would also be desperate enough to commit other crimes and you would be right. Petty theft, burglary and in rare cases robbery are common among this population and during my investigations the vast majority had warrants for their arrest for these and other crimes.

    There are many many private support groups to help the less fortunate and when offered to these people on the street, most that I have come in contact with refuse them. I volunteered at a shelter for my church and many people would not even enter the shelter because we would search their possessions for weapons or drugs as a requirement for service. It is hard for us regular working folks to believe that it is a life choice for some of these people, because we are not in their desperate shoes. In my civilian life I offer food or information to get them help, never money. The ones that are in real need will accept your help and if they refuse your offer then you know.

    Then there are the other type of panhandlers that are outright frauds. John Stossel did a great investigatory report on this issue which you can check out at: . His report showed just how much money you can get panhandling and he even tried it himself. Even when his sign said “I need beer” he got as much was when his sign said, “Hungry, need to eat” They even followed some of these supposed homeless and found that they lived in apartments, went out to eat and lived a tax free life. The typical take for and eight hour day is $100 or more.

    So how are you supposed to differentiate those in real need from those looking for their next drug fix or professional panhandlers? You aren’t! If you genuinely care for those that are really in need and want help, please give to those non-profit agencies that do just that. That alone will take away any guilt you may have at walking by panhandlers. A couple in the LA area I like are The LA Mission shelter at ) and Frontline Foundation at which both help the homeless directly with food.

  46. Michael,

    I loved your message!

    Born to a migrant agricultural family, one of 13 children, I got one of my best lessons in compassion from my father. One day, while walking down a street and coming face to face with a panhandler, my father reached into his pocket and handed a few coins to the man. We were dirt poor, and since I was one of the family income earners, I was not only surprised; I was annoyed at my father.

    A Catholic who converted to Protestantism during the Mexican Civil War of 1910, my father was an avid reader of the Bible. He was engrossed in the New Testament and was literally guided by the Gospel.

    I dared to question father, asking him why he would give money to a man who was surely going to beeline it to the nearest tavern. Father looked at me and in his gentle voice said, “Son, Never look into a man

  47. Some people say don’t give to panhandlers because many of them will just use the money to buy alcohol or drugs. But I say as unfortunate as that is, if my giving them money means they don’t break into some one’s house, steal things, rob someone or murder to obtain the funds needed to support their habits, I’m quite happy to give them money they need simply in virtue of their asking for it than force them into a life of crime. What’s worse, giving some one $5 to get drunk, or waiting for that person to break into someone’s house, steal property, possibly encounter a homeowner, some one get killed and end up arrested and or in prison. Which costs society less? The panhandler may be living a debauched and immoral, drug and alcohol dependent life, homeless and on the street, but that’s a lot better than being a taxpayer supported inmate. Everyday they spend as panhandler begging is another day they can hope to realize they need to get their lives together, regain their self-respect and re-join the rest of humanity. If giving them a little money buys them another day to turn their lives around before they do themselves or others irreparable damage, I say give ’em a buck or two.

  48. Thank You Mr.Josephson for your invaluable thoughts and comments and sharing it with us. If I have understand it correct you have brought up a very unique nature of human being. Why generosity requires so much effort? We will find a thousand reason not to help! This topic is really not about beggars or panhandlers but poverty of generosity within us. The story of panhandler is really a good example of our behavior that how so many ways we find excuses not to help. Obviously those people on the street are needy and us walking by them definitely have so much more that we can do something about it but question is how many of us really do anything about it? I believe no matter in what condition we are in, we always have something that we can help others with. Sticking with the panhandlers story, by giving some money if nothing we will help our self to change our thinking and let the generosity grow within us.

  49. Handing out cash only reinforces bad behavior and could be hazardous to your health. The ones that would hurt you are looking for a mark that is weaker or allows themself to be distracted. Panhandling I illegal for good reason.

  50. If you really want to do something, you need to start a program. In Chicago, there is a program for the homeless where they can sell newspapers. A person is given a bunch of newspapers and they can sell them for a dollar each. The next day they buy the papers for 50 cents each and they sell them again for a dollar.

    I try to always buy a paper from them, even if I throw it away. This is a way to help someone that wants to help themself. There must be many other programs that exist to help someone help themself.

    1. That newspaper idea sounds good. Here in L.A. I’ve seen them put the coins in the dispenser and then snatch the entire stack and then go down to the subway to sell them. I had one homeless man tell me that if he found your wallet he would consider it as God supplying his needs, and go out and spend the cash and charge up the cards.

  51. I’m always tempted to give something in these circumstances, however, while it may make me feel better about myself (realizing the immediate gratification of the gift), I think a more disciplined approach of giving cumulatively to a service that can provide goods and services more efficiently is ultimately more effective and productive. I miss out on the immediate “thank you so much” (from both the sincerely needy and the unscrupulous cons) but know that I am accomplishing more. Reasonable people can have different opinions – at the end of the day its about appreciating our good fortune and giving something.

  52. Michael –

    For the most part I agree. There will always be poor among us. Oftentimes it is thier own fault for bad choices they have made. Still, who hasn’t made bad choices. I don’t try to feed the world and I don’t feed feed many of the panhandlers I see. But, I try to keep a dollar or two in my ash try so that when I stop at an off ramp and see someone who I feel I should help I will hand them a dollar. I know many of them are scammers and I know I’ve been taken a few times. But, I try to use discernment and be selective. After I give a dollar or two then I figure I’ve done enough for one day because I know there is no end to the need and I may be giving more the next day. Sometimes I give more. Sometimes I don’t give any because either the opportunity didn’t present itself or I didn’t feel right about the person I was looking at. I remember once being taken advantage once when I saw the person I had just given money to buy beer. But, I learned from the experience and try to be more discrening since then. As for that instance I think the Lord will jusdge me for the intent of my heart even though I was scammed. I don’t want to feed a weakness. But, if I see genuine need for someone who is trying and needs a little help then I think it is a great thing to help out if you can.

  53. I think the whole point here is that we should all give something of ourselves to those who are less fortunate than us. Be it our time, talent or money. Many of us are very blessed compared to others, and we need to realize how lucky we are. We should all give in whatever way we are personally led. Volunteer at a shelter, help w/childcare at a substance abuse program, donate to a reputable charity. There are so, so many ways we can help others. There is really no excuse unless you are down on your luck yourself.

    1. I very much agree with you KDG. I think that is the point of this article and it is about us. Who are we to judge? Even if there were some incidences of scamming or misuse of the money, you can not judge everyone on the street as if they are all same. Only thing we should do is help. Help them any of the way that you can. It may be volunteering, help to shelter or gift to charity or come up with some idea or support a program.

  54. Pingback: ODDS & ENDS: Michael’s Commentary about giving to panhandlers has generated a great deal of passionate discourse.

  55. By handing out cash you encourage poor behaviors from those that are scamming or not in true need. By handing out necessary items for survival you encourage a better behavior. If you won’t miss the cash then provide it to those who are truly attempting to change their circumstance~give to organizations that are encouraging better behaviors and educating those who wish to change and become self sufficient. I never hand out cash, I may offer to buy them a meal or give them an apple if I am leaving the grocery. I have also been needing a handout (being a single parent) but have never asked for cash. Being encouraged to find assistance that will provide long term success is far better then doing the quick ‘now I feel better’ way of giving them cash that has no motivation to better themselves attached to it. FIND a better way to feel good and truly help!!!!

  56. this reminds me of the starfish story where the little boy was told he could not save them all and he replied, “but I can save this one.” Maybe the best thing would be each game to give to a different beggar and see how that goes.

  57. I have felt as you rationed that we should give something regardless of the intentions of the panhandler, after all aren’t we all beggars before God?

  58. I have been approached several times in the last year coming out of restaurants and on one occasion was approached and asked for money for food. I offered the person a dinner or the food that we had left over from our meal in a takeout bag. At first he just wanted the money, but finally accepted the takeout bag. On the second occasion, in Houston, it was a young family. It was a young man along with his wife( or girlfriend) with an infant that could have been about 3 months old. The couple themselves could not have been 21. I said no money, however my wife and I took them to a restaurant and got them dinner. They were struggling with drug issues, the baby, and no family to help. I was not a local resident so I did not have a phone no. or address for them for assistance. I was also made aware that they are trying to raise money for drugs and using the baby to gain sympathy from people. They appreciated the dinner( this was at 11pm) and the next night were back at it again. This all took place at the Final 4 in Houston last year. As I look back, I probably should have called the police and get child services involved.

  59. My husband & I carry gift certificates to fast food restaurants so they can get meal. If we don’t have any of those we give to those who we feel led to give to. Try to picture yourself without family, friends, a roof over your head, a place to bathe, go to the restroom for whatever reason and think “what if that were me?” “How would I want to be treated?” Even if you don’t give them anything can you give them a smile and a little dignity?

  60. At the end of the day, when one gives, it should be simply for the act of giving, not based upon what the receiver does with the money that he or she receives. I believe this is the basis for all of giving in many beliefs. One cannot judge what others do with a gift or we will get so caught up in these concepts no one will ever proceed with such beautiful acts of kindness.
    We as humans have all been in situations when a kindness would have helped us at one time or another, and perhaps we could have used a leg up or a helping hand if offered, or if our pride would allow.
    When we are able to offer this kindness with a happy heart then we should do so and let it be just that, a singular act of kindness. If this act troubles us, or we are not in the proper frame of mind, then do not. Sounds easy, but think about it…then put it into action next time.

  61. All great comments and ideas! If there had been a dollar collected for each comment posted (including mine and Mr. Josephson’s), do you know $69 would be the total and perhaps given to the panhandlers for the day? And none of us would go hungry. Just a thought… 🙂

  62. I tend to prefer to give them food, and try to carry protein bars with me. Sometimes I will ask them if they are hungry and purchase them a meal. It bothers me when I do not help them, and I am not able to be so generous as to give each of them I see $5 or $10, but I do not behoove those who are able or who do. I wish I could find them work or the proper social services agency, because putting a band-aid on a severed artery seems insufficient. Not sure all of them want to work, but I try not to judge. I am a human being, so many times I have to remind myself to love people where they are and leave it at that.

  63. I do not believe it is a matter of giving or not giving, but rather a matter of being able to help or not to help. I am in a position to help people in need. When someone asks me for money I usually respond with,

  64. Something to think about – Just as people don’t ‘choose’ to be born a certain color, or sex, or sexual identity, neither do we ‘choose’ to be addictive or mentally ill people. Some of us have better starts and supportive families, some of us don’t. Until we walk in another’s shoes, we can’t possibly know their lives, why they made the decisions they made, or the directions their lives have taken them. Hungry is still hungry, lonely is still lonely, ill is still ill. Some suggestions I have read really are helpful, water, socks, toiletries, gift certificates. Something to keep in mind about actual food – many homeless people have terrible teeth problems and can’t chew well, so hard fruit is difficult, and sweet things really hurt in the mouth. Ours is not to judge, but to aid, in whatever way seems right at the time.

  65. I use to give money but no more. The last time a panhandler asked me for money, he asked me for $50.00 No I’m not kidding. I think that’s going a little too far. I thought it was rather nervy of him and it turned me off. I also found out that one of the regular panhandlers I gave to was actually very wealthy but chose to live this way. They did a documentary on his life.

    I’ve also seen a documentary on people on the street from our local news station and found out that while I still worked, some of those people actually made more money than I did in a week and I had a decent paying job!!!! What the heck…why work when you can make more than those who are working??

    We all have a choice in life some choose to live on the street. Yes, I understand there are many who do not choose and for some unfortunate circumstance they land on the street. However, they still have the ability to seek help if they really want it.

    The only people I help on the street now are the young. I don’t give them money but I do ask if they are hungry and if they are, I buy them a meal. Unfortunately, many of our youth have serious problems at home and are forced to leave. Then again, they too have the option to seek help to get off the street. I just don’t give them money so they can buy drugs.

    I know I sound uncaring to most bleeding hearts. Just as I had to get off my butt to find work when I lost my job, then too the panhandlers can do the same. Most look very healthy and quite capable of holding a job if they want to. Those who don’t, I feel are in serious need of psychological counseling, not money.

  66. I have brought the homeless into my home for a safe nights sleep. Taken them to lunch and listened to their stories. Prayed with them, and have run to the store to buy them basic needs. In all, but one instance these people made several hundred dollars a day.

    That’s very over simplified for brevity.

    I am but one, but I follow one rule: there but for the grace of God go I…
    With that, I honestly just try to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance. It can be hard at times, being that I have seen one man take in $800 and have nothing the next morning (spent at the bar, buying rounds for all). Either way, my thought is this, it’s my responsibility to love my neighbor MORE than I love my self, so I give whatever I am led to give (time, money, a friendly ear, etc.) and then what happens with my gift is between the receiver and the Lord.

    It is honestly hard to be impartial, critical, and or judgmental. Looking upon the unwashed man reeking of alcohol and the cleaner woman with a stroller and child – pick one to help…I can’t by myself, not without my fallen human nature having it’s say.

    Help each other as we are led and able and remember Galatians 6:9 which urges we do good and never tire doing so.

  67. I try to use discernment when I give to panhandlers. I live in a small town that has no homeless, or panhandlers, so it is only when I go out of my area do I see instances of this. I feel God will give us the nudge to help when that person truly needs our help. If one listens to that “inner voice”, which to me is Jesus telling me what to do, one can discern and know what to do. With the Holy Spirit’s leading, I do what I feel is right and I let the Lord take care of the rest.

  68. You are right to do something compassionate. Yes – there are scammers, yes – you can’t feed the world, yes – they are usualy in thier bad situation because of thier own bad choices. But, all this simply means you need to use judgement in how much, how often and who you give money to. Occaisionaly you may make a bad choice and get burned. But, in God’s eyes you are being compassionate and it will be counted to your credit. In the final judgement you won’t hear the words “You fool. Why did you give money to those people?” You may hear the words.. “You were a wise and compassionate person and occaisional gave to someone who you shouldn’t have. But, I love you for all you did; even when you tried to do the right thing and got burned.” So I would simply say…. Good luck on deciding who to give to and how much and how often to give.

  69. I just want to say thank you for so many of you who commented on this subject I am very proud of the American spirit in spite of what some of the world thinks of us; their are still many caring, loving and giving people in America I salute you all and thank you for making my day!!!!!

  70. I have recently started to carry a bunch if ones in my car and give each time I see a person asking. This is after years of rationalizing why it is “better” not to.
    What changed my actions was the self knowledge of where my thoughts originate. The place inside myself where the thought of giving originated was much more profound and deeper than any of my surface level excuses as to why I shouldn’t give.
    Just excited to see another person who had similar thoughts because most other sites are doing the rationalization thing. I don’t care weather the person is legit or not. It isn’t for me to decide. What matters is that it doesn’t hurt me and it takes money less seriously and I would hope for the same if I was in need cause u am sure I could be judged a million different ways. Empathy?

  71. According to Tamud ” The best way to do charity is to make that charity to
    be no more needed”

    There have been times in Spain when you did not see any beggar in the streets
    (last years when Franco ruled over Spain and during Aznar Government), but
    no as people enjoy voting to socialists and they only know to steal and bring
    poverty whatever they go (you just look around) then I do not feel to have to give
    money to people (lazy and stupid) who seem to like misery and poverty.
    I ussually send them to the Socialist6 Party premises eo ask there. I suppose
    they will have some of the hundreds of thousands of milliones of euros who
    disappeared during their catastrofic ruling.

    Maybe this could be applied to America too.

  72. My theory is if I have it to give, which sometimes I have it and sometimes I do not-it is not my worry of how they spend it. That is between them and God.
    I do like the wording though….choose caring over judging–make a poster for that one Michael!! : )

  73. As I write this I’m listening to “The Emporer Concerto” by Beethoven. This is beautiful music. I think that giving something to someone who is asking for help is also “beautiful” giving. “Give to an organization not to a person”, some say. NO WAY…the CEO’s of those organizations are sometimes making MILLIONS when they give little to any person! SHARING…is what I call it. It is MY GOOD FORTUNE to have the ABILITY TO GIVE… SHARING with others less fortunate I help THEM…and I help myself—with a “good feeling” due to endorphins…the recipient has an upsurge in endorphins…and the giver also has an upsruge in endorphins—the hormones that make us feel good. IT IS A WIN-WIN situation if people are intelligent enough to realize.

    As for “socialism”…..that is another form of SHARING. I am HAPPY to SHARE my money with someone who is unemplyed…or handicapped…or sick…..or needs an education……..JUST BE HAPPY THAT YOU HAVE MONEY TO SHARE. IT IS A PRIVILEDGE TO PAY TAXES….. to share what I have to help make our society more humane and more human. So, get those $1 and $5 bills and higher bills ready in your car, purse, or wallet to SHARE with those who have less. YOU WILL feel MUCH better for it!!! :o)

  74. This is a true story. As I was hurrying to an appointment in a downtown area a man approached me and asked if I could give him some money because he had not eaten in days. I had just been to the store and had a bag of apples and a bag of oranges in my trunk. I told him that I did not have any money for him but that if he would follow me to my car that I would be able to give him some apples and oranges. The man replied “That’s OK man, I don’t like fruit” and went on his way.

    From now on when approached by people who appear to be in need of sustenance we always offer them whatever food we have available but not money.

  75. My husband and I were leaving a restaurant with a doggy bag (we have no doggy!) and a homeless man came up to us and asked if he could have that food. At first we said no but we talked it over in the car and decided he could use it so we gave it to him. By the time we headed out the driveway, he was eating it and he told us it was really good. I felt good, myself! So did my husband.

  76. I used to give money to people who begged just off the interstate ramps or near the local drugstore, even outside of my childrens’ elementary school – a place where ethnicity and individuality was celebrated. After awhile, in the neighborhood near the school, I noticed it was usually the same woman out panhandling. She always looked well-dressed or at least wearing decent clothes and every single time she had a different excuse. It occurred to me that she was dressed to match the need she claimed she had. However, to me her face looked sallow so I gave her the hotline number to the Gospel Mission, a place which could give her food and shelter. I highly suspected that she was abusing drugs so I also gave her both the national and local hotline numbers to places which could help her with that life choice. Each organization also had drivers who go pick up people and take them to the Emergency Room if need be or they would give them a ride back to the organization’s building.
    Now, when I remember to, I pack nutritious foods or even a tasty treat to give away.

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