“I don’t mind stealing bread from the mouth of decadence. But I can’t feed on the powerless when my cup’s already overfilled.”
— Temple of the Dog
People tell me — and I know they’re right — that it’s not fair to judge someone’s circumstances based on appearances.
But sometimes I just can’t help it.
I’m going to say something here that I invite anyone who reads it to disregard as the ramblings of a crotchety cuss. And, yes, I’m aware that most of you who read this column on a regular basis do that anyway. But for some reason, it infuriates me to see people driving up to freebie giveaways in vehicles that cost more than I make in two years. Yeah, you’re right, maybe it’s jealousy. But as optics, it just, well, sucks.
I’ve talked to many of the kind, giving understanding souls who volunteer their time, money and compassion to help others in distress, and I’ll say here there are no more wonderful people on this Earth. But I marvel at their unconcern when they hand out freebies — food, phones, car seats, etc. — to people who are no more in need than the people who are living on Easy Street.
I guess it hit me hardest recently when I, while covering one such event, couldn’t help but be a little puzzled when a woman drove up to get a whole batch of freebies ... in a brand-new Mercedes that was as ostentatious as any vehicle I’ve ever seen. (I can’t even guess how much this gleaming monstrosity cost, because I’ve never had the desire nor the money to even price one.)
I couldn’t help but ponder this unholy juxtaposition: Here’s one of the highest-priced vehicles in the world being driven up at a line to pick up a bundle of free food donated — or purchased — by good-hearted people and organizations that simply wanted to help supply the needs of people whose circumstances make it difficult for them to take care of their or their family’s basic necessities.
Here are a couple of things I was able to surmise as I watched this scene unfold: First of all, no way in hell was anyone who drove a gleaming new Mercedes unable to meet her or her family’s needs. And, secondly, if she really were in dire straights, even with money-handling knowledge and skills that tend more toward the red than black, even I could see a way to help her out. Sell the damned Mercedes and use the money to buy groceries, pay utility bills, take care of your family’s needs.
When I’ve kind of hinted to some of the souls who are in charge of such giveaways, they tend to brush my concern aside, as if there’s really nothing wrong with anyone getting free stuff in a nice vehicle, as if I’m the one with the problem. And they’re right. Who am I to judge someone harshly just because they have a nice ride?
It’s just that, with such programs offering very limited goods to the needy in our community, it would seem that people who are doing well enough to drive a Mercedes — or any other luxury vehicle — are cheating someone who really needs the freebies — none of whom are driving Mercedeses or, often, any vehicle at all — to perhaps survive the next few days out of an opportunity to do so. Pride, one would think, would keep these well-to-do freeloaders from taking nourishment from the mouths of starving children.
One would think.
I was talking to an official at one of the well-known soup kitchens in Albany a while back, while working on a story about the facility. As I joined the men and women in line for food after sitting through a brief church service, I noticed two women drive up in a latest-model luxury vehicle. They walked up to the food line — didn’t even attend the typically mandatory church service — got two plates, walked back to their vehicle and drove off.
I asked the director of the facility about it, and he told me something I’ve never forgotten: “Here, we feed the needy and the greedy.”