The Other Side of the Cardboard Sign

Last week, as a special Easter celebration, I decided to go back out in the streets of Kitsilano to offer my neighbours in need a homemade lunch. Armed with gourmet mac n’ cheese with a side of salad and tasty carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, I set out to hand out a few meals.

For the most part, this Easter dinner went by as expected: the usual spots with some “return customers” and all appreciated a good homemade meal. They wished me a “happy easter” and I was on my way.

As I walked along Broadway, I noticed a man on the other side of the road who appeared to be walking around asking people for change. I decided to make my way to where he was. Never assuming someone needs help, I thought I would pass by him and see if he asked me first.

“Excuse me,” he said quietly. “I’m so sorry to bother you but would you have some change to spare?” I let him know I did not but that if he was hungry, I had a homemade meal in my bag and that I would be happy to give it to him. I don’t think that’s the answer he expected and so he stayed cautious. I explained that I go around the neighbourhood each month and hand out a few meals. If he was interested, the meal that day was mac n’cheese with a salad and carrot cupcakes. “You mean you have real homemade mac n’ cheese in your bag?” I brought a meal out and hesitantly, he reached for it.

At this point, he started explaining to me. “I’m very sorry to be asking you for help. I never do this you know but I’ve really been down on my luck lately. I really appreciate you stopping to talk to me.” It was easy to see that it had been very hard for him to come out that day and ask for help.

I’d never thought about it that way. You always see people in the streets with those cardboard signs asking for help. It’s such a normal sight that as much as I hate to say it, I’ve never really thought about how it must feel to be on the other side of that cardboard sign.  I personally have a really hard time asking family and friends for help, even for simple little things. I can only imagine how hard it would be and how degrading it would feel to ask complete strangers for change.

As I walked back home, I kept thinking about that man. He had been down on his luck to the point where he could not survive day-to-day without asking for help. How did it feel to be ignored or judged for having to do this? I never got his story or even his name and I have not seen him again. I hope things get better for him but in the meantime, he taught me an important lesson. Asking for help is hard for everyone, even those behind the cardboard sign. Hopefully, this can stay with you as well. We cannot always help but please remember to respect how hard it may take to ask.

April 15 dinner



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