How should we act towards the less fortunate?

I used to not look at the people who are homeless on Washington Street, especially when they would ask for money. I was scared that they would get angry if I saw them and ignored them. To be honest, I was also worried that if I only gave some change, they would try to mug me too, so I always walked fast and as far away on the sidewalk as possible.

One night, I was was walking with a group, and a guy walked up to us asking for money. One of my friends just said, “Sorry man, I don’t have any change on me.” I was so surprised that one of my friends talked to the guy and that the guy said it was okay and walked away. That opened my eyes… a little.

Recently, I was at Dunkin on Wash. & 7th with a different friend and it was the first cold day. A homeless man walked in and asked my friend for his Stevens sweatshirt or something to cover up to stay warm. My friend told the man that he needed the sweatshirt because he didn’t have anything under it (weird, but it was true). Then, my friend offered to buy the man some food at Dunkin. He got the man coffee and gave him $10. I really didn’t understand it, but my friend said that charity is important.

I know what it’s like to be kind of poor, and I recognize the importance of giving back. My family is moving, so we cleaned out our house and put everything on the curb for free. A lot of really destitute people from around town took old food, clothes, jewelry, shampoo, books, kitchen utensils, furniture, and so much more that we weren’t using in our cabinets, pantry, closets, and garage. Those people were so grateful because their families really needed those items. In this case, I felt like giving away all of our stuff actually improved the quality of someone’s life and made it easier on them. I just don’t know if a few dollars would really do that and help people on the streets.

I guess that I probably don’t need the change at the bottom of my purse as much as they need it, but I don’t think it would make that big of a difference in their lives. Like I wonder if they would use the money for cigarettes or some other drugs or for food, water, and clothing. Would it help them get on their feet again, or closer to getting a job? If I gave to one person, would I be obligated to give to every one or every time? I think I’d rather volunteer at a soup kitchen or make sandwiches for the homeless – just a more organized way of helping the homeless community get the help that they need.

Part of the reason I wrote this was because I watched a video on Facebook about homeless women. The video showed how hard it is for these people to have good hygiene and get feminine products. It made me so sad, and I felt bad about how many paper towels I waste. That video also made me think of how The Stute was throwing out big cardboard boxes. So, I brought them back into the office because I thought a homeless person could use them. I was kind of afraid to ask a homeless if they needed them, and I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to just show up with these boxes to a homeless person’s area, so I ended up throwing them out again. The next day, I saw the man from Dunkin walking down the street with a flattened box, and I felt bad that I didn’t follow through with my idea.

I mainly wrote this because I know that everyone sees the homeless people in Hoboken, and I guess most people are like me and don’t do anything about it. I mean, I know some groups on campus are involved in helping people from hunger and poverty – groups like APO, Greek Life, and FeelGood – but I don’t know how to play a role individually and on my own time, separate from an organization.

If anyone in the Stevens community has advice, please reach out to me personally or maybe write a letter-to-the-editor to be published next week so more people can figure out the best way to help.

About the Author

Lisa Mengotto
A young chemical biologist, philosopher, and aspiring doctor, Lisa Mengotto (@lmengotto) has been writing for The Stute since the start of her Stevens career. She primarily addresses the successes and downfalls of Stevens and her love life.