I grew up in  family of givers. As poor as we were, and we were so poor that we lived in what would be described as a ghetto area in a two bedroom house with eight children, we always had food to share. We had quite a few sketchy characters in and around our neighborhood, but everyone knew if you needed a meal you could always go to our house.

We didn’t recognize the lady, who I remember coming to us one night well after dinnertime. but that wasn’t unusual because word of mouth often led people to our home to ask for help. She seemed an older woman to me, but now I think she has just had a hard life and cigarettes and booze aged her prematurely. Her skin was hard and brown and wrinkled. She was hunched over and her coat was not warm enough for the weather outside.

Pleasant and patient as always, my mother asked her what she needed. She asked for money, something my mother rarely gave, and the woman insisted that only money would solve her problem. She hemmed and hawed and finally said she had a visit from “Aunt Flo” and needed to buy her lady things. My mom explained that she had supplies and sent me upstairs to our tiny bathroom to get that big blue box with the rose on it. My mom handed it to her just as sweet as can be and the woman threw a fit using words I will not repeat here. Turns out she did not have a need for feminine products but thought it was a good way to get money. Not with my mom is wasn’t.

She stormed away and my mom explained that helping people is always a good thing but we must always do three things first; ask questions, be kind in the process, and then decide the best course of action. I have never forgotten that story and I have tried my best to be like Miss Barbara as they called my mom. Be kind, be smart, and don’t enable.

We are in the swing of the holiday seasons. From people ringing bells at the red kettle to angel trees, food drives, and Toys for Tots there are hundreds of ways to give money. With organizations like these we usually feel that the gifts and food are going to families in need.

But about homeless people or women like the one in my story? Those are harder decisions to make. We buy food and stock Hope Fridge in the downtown area where those in need can walk up and take whatever they need. We donate products to the Day by Day Warming Shelter. I cook meals and deliver them to those in need. I’m like my mom in that I rarely give money to those who ask. There are so many programs and our community is generous. I like to share information and try and help someone make long-term changes.

Whatever I do this holiday season and beyond I will always strive to emulate my mother. I’ll be kind, I’ll be smart, and I will not enable.