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give them what they (say they) want

I feel guilty about walking past a hungry person and not helping them get some food, but I find it hard to believe that everyone claiming to be hungry in downtown San Francisco is only craving nutritional sustenance. An easy solution: when approached by a "hungry" person, I hand them some actual food! I usually carry a snack with a long shelf life in my backpack: a baggie of nuts, a chocolate bar, some dried fruit. So when I'm approached by someone who says they're hungry, I offer them an actual treat looking just as yummy and nutritious as it was on the shelves of Whole Foods.
The reaction I get to such offers is illuminating. An aggressive beggar in the big Westfield mall downtown literally recoiled at the offer of a bag of grape Clif Blox.. Sorry, buddy, but you need detox, not glucose. And yeah: the homeless community knows exactly where to go for free detox services, and they talk about it with more respect and dread than prison. (How do I know? Because I've talked to people who got sober for good after their 15th or 20th time through Ozanam.)
I'm not saying that I can cure poverty or drug addiction or homelessness with a 300 calorie snack. I'm just saying, here's an ethical way to cope with pleas from which our society should not ignore. Give them what they say they want.

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