I went to a doctor’s appointment this morning. It was already pretty hot — around 80 degrees. When I came out and got into the car, I saw three young people. I’ll guess the young man was about 16, one girl was about 14 and then there was a little girl around 6 or 7. As I watched, the boy jumped into a dumpster and started throwing out bottles and cans. The 14 year old girl had a big plastic bag in which she was collecting the bottles and cans. The boy stayed in the dumpster as I watched for a few minutes. He popped up with a handful of things, including a camera, and handed it to the 14 year old and then went right back into the dumpster.

I was horrified. There had to have been maggots in that dumpster, or rats or worse. How hungry do people have to be to try to get money this way? My first thought was to give them my money. I had only $3 on me, though. I usually have emergency money stashed away in my car but I was in the husband’s car. So I decided to go to the bank to get cash and then come back and try to find them and give them some money then.

As I drove away, I was overcome by the hypocrisy of my charitable impulses. OK, let’s say I gave them $20 or $50 or even $100. I would make myself feel better but what would I accomplish? What would stop them from having to dumpster-dive next week again? Then I thought, but at least maybe there will be some respite from the maggots for a few days. I went back and forth a few times on which course of action to take: donate money or just go home. I could not think of any other options, like hiring them to work in my business, since I don’t have one. I didn’t think reporting them to the state child welfare department would accomplish anything positive for them, because I know how terrible the options are when you go down that road.

I can’t believe this happens in 2013 in one of the wealthiest states in the nation. I represent poor people for a living so it’s not as if I am sheltered from the world of poverty, but this brought it home for me in a way that my work does not. I was literally sick to my stomach over the thought of that young man crawling around in the dumpster.

What should I have done? What would you have done?

 

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