When I was a kid around the age of 7-8, my grandfather and I left his house in South Philadelphia to pick up some sandwiches for lunch. Upon getting into his white Buick, my grandfather leaned down and reached into his sock, pulling out two ten dollar bills. He asked me to hold onto them, but didn’t explain why. When we got to the sandwich place, he reached into his wallet and pulled out a business card that was worn and somewhat faded. On the back, something was scribbled in blue pen. He handed me the business card and explained very carefully that once we get inside, he’s going to order our sandwiches for my grandmother, himself, my brother, and I, and he wants me to read the card, then hand the man at the counter the money he gave me. I followed his instructions carefully, but was curious as to why we were getting three extra sandwiches. From the sandwich place, we traveled to an I-95 underpass where I saw three homeless men sitting there, looks of despair across each of their faces. My grandfather took the bag of sandwiches I had ordered, and distributed them to each man. I sat there in the car watching each man smile with a gleam in their eye as they thanked my grandfather. My grandfather nodded once, got back in the car, and drove us back home.
I never forgot that day, even after he passed away in 1998. He taught me an important lesson that one should not be hesitant about assisting others in need. Working in North Philadelphia for the last four years in an area saturated with housing projects, abandoned rowhomes, and with crack addicts and prostitutes has given me a lot of perspective on how whether I like to admit it, I am very spoiled to have grown up in a stable household, been able to achieve a level of education, and have the ability to operate a car as well as own a car. I try not to take things for granted, even though I know I do especially when spending money is involved.
This morning around 6:30am, I awoke feeling the effects of having one too many drink last night. I decided that I would drive to FDR Park to enjoy my coffee and the beautiful morning. After sitting in FDR Park for about 45 minutes, I began to drive home. As I was driving home, I remembered about some great graffiti close to 3rd and Diamond that I wanted to photograph. As I reached the intersection of 7th and Diamond, I noticed a woman who had been walking along the sidewalk was now in the middle of the street waving her arms frantically and screaming after me. For some reason, I felt the need to stop. Leaving the car running, I pulled over, walked over to her and asked what was up. The woman was a heavy-set African-American woman who identified herself as Angie, and she was wearing a black Ed Hardy tank-top and jeans. She was also carrying four credit cards.
She explained about how her mom had breast cancer, and how she had walked to the Rite Aid on Broad and Susquehanna only to discover that she couldn’t afford her mom’s medication, which was $30 with a copay. After listening to her talk for about five minutes, I suddenly realized there was something different about Angie than the other people who usually ask me for money. The look of panic and fear in her eyes seemed palpable. She asked me if I could pay for her mom’s prescription, and she would pay me back twofold on Wednesday. Breaking all sorts of code and precedent, I felt compelled to help Angie as I felt she was being genuine, and told her to get in my car. As we drove to the Rite Aid, she told me about her mom’s struggle with breast cancer and how she recently had to have a breast removed. I didn’t say much. I simply drove and let Angie do the talking. She explained how she had spent the last 2 hours walking around trying to find someone, anyone, who would help her out.
We arrived at the Rite Aid, where the pharmacist asked for Angie’s mom’s birthday, which she provided. I paid the pharmacist for the prescription. Upon leaving Rite Aid, I offered to give Angie a ride home since it was pretty hot. Angie lived in the town-home style projects at 20th and Jefferson. I thought about this in my head for a minute that she had walked from 20th and Jefferson to 7th and Diamond and many places in between looking for some kind of help, only to be refused time and time again. As I drove her home, she explained how she was never able to get a driver’s license and how appreciative she was of my actions. Before she got out, I told Angie she didn’t have to worry about paying me back. After dropping her off at her home, I sat in the car for a minute or two afterwards to respond to a text message I had received while driving. I looked to my right out of the passenger-side window and see another heavy-set African-American woman who is devoid of her left breast smiling and waving to me as Angie handed her the prescription. I waved back, smiled, and returned home.
On my drive home, and even now, I find myself trying to wrap my head around what happened earlier. Why did I let a stranger in my car? Why did I spend $30 on someone I didn’t know? Why did I even decide to wake up this morning and drive all the way to South Philly when I felt like complete shit? There are so many questions I have regarding my actions, but there is one thing I am not questioning, and that’s whether or not I did something kind today. Philadelphia, like every city has lots of problems. Like many cities, there are some who are quite well-off, but there are also many who do not and are constantly teetering on the brink of personal or financial ruin. I don’t support outright just handing money to people on the street, as one cannot guarantee that money is going towards a worthy cause. However, I absolutely support using money to buy a meal for someone less fortunate, donating to a worthy local charity, or some other act of kindness. As I considered whether I would spend the $30 on that prescription, I thought about the stuff I would have to pay for this month: student loans, rent, utilities, cable/internet, car insurance, and cell phone bill. I hate paying each one of those, but I’m lucky to be in a place where I can have these things to pay for in the first place.
Moral of the story: don’t forget that there are people in Philadelphia who need your help. Every once in a while, I implore you to take a step back and assist someone in need in a way you see fit. They’ll be appreciative, and you’ll know that a simple action on your part made a big impact in the life of someone else.