“Charity or Enabling?”


While in earlier times charity meant love, my discussion of the virtue today will center on the way we commonly use the term today. We think of charity as giving, frequently money, to those in need. Sometimes we think of large organizations such as the Salvation Army as a charity. But my thoughts today are around the tension I feel when confronted with people asking me for money.

It’s a rare day when I can drive without seeing someone, usually a man, standing next to the traffic lane with a piece of cardboard hand lettered with a message saying something like “homeless, hungry, willing to work.” Unfailingly I will arrive at a stop light and sit for a time next to the person with the sign. I doubt his sign; I doubt my charitable heart; I drive on wondering about the encounter.

Our church, in a poverty stricken downtown, attracts a number of the homeless. We feed them sandwiches each day; we hand out gloves, hats and socks; our friars give out bus passes, food gift cards and medical co-pays. In the dead of winter we are an emergency warm up shelter. Still individuals ask us directly for money. Our priest has asked us to send anyone on to him and not give out money. So we don’t, but it is challenging to look at someone obviously struggling and say no.

So yes I know that many of these people are addicts. Yes I know that many of them would just use the money for drugs or alcohol. So yes I know that would be enabling. So my charity would be enabling I guess. So I put extra money in our poor box, trusting our friars to know what to do and who to help and how to best help each poor soul. That was my act of charity today.


22 thoughts on ““Charity or Enabling?”

  1. It is easy to do your bit of random kindness to people around you and you feel a certain kind of satisfaction in knowing that in your own small way, you have touched lives. And the smile that you receive from such act is like a ray of sunshine illuminating your soul.


  2. Same here. Sometimes I give money anyway. When I’m more prepared I buy gift cards for coffee shops, Subway, or grocery stores. Sure, someone *could* sell those for money to buy drugs, or it might be used to “free up” money that would’ve gone for food to now go for drugs. I feel like it could be crazy-making for me to overthink this. When I have volunteered to serve breakfast, was I possibly saving them from buying breakfast and now making it possible to use that money for drugs or alcohol?

    At some point I just have to be comfortable with my own judgement and give or not give. I won’t give money to the folks with the “Spare Change for Pot” sign. Sure, it’s honest (and gets a lot of sympathy from college students) but I can’t support that.

    But if I have my act together I try to give in kind wherever I can: socks, blankets, money to organizations (and some really great friends) who help out on the streets. In the end, though, the thing that really needs to be done is to address the root cause. But that takes an even bigger effort – and we still need to do something in the meantime…

    There I go rambling again 🙂


    1. First thanks for letting me know I often overthink this. One of our friars bought many Dunkin Donut gift cards to hand out. The last time he went to buy them, they wouldn’t sell them to him because of who came in with them!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow – that seems completely wrong. I’m not sure that’s even legal. If nothing else it’s really sad. A friend of ours collects money from friends on Facebook and buys tons of Tim Hortons cards along with hats, scarves, socks, etc and hands them out on cold nights. The staff at the Tim Hortons are always really glad to know why they’re buying them.


        1. Yeah – I wasn’t expecting him to necessarily challenge them – more that I’m expressing my disappointment in the staff at that location that they would do that. Good solution on your part!


  3. I’ve had all the same thoughts seeing people on the street or on the corner asking for money and I struggle with the same dilemma. I don’t agree with handing out money or food on the street because that promotes people to stay on the street. I also agree that a thoughtful handout is often an act of enabling someone’s self-destructive behavior.

    Once I posted information from a local gospel mission flyer that was asking people not to give money to those who appear to be homeless. Instead, it encouraged support of one of the many charities that can help. The reasons were too numerous to list here, but the request made a lot of sense to me. I blogged some thoughts from it, and was surprised to receive a little negative feedback.

    I realize it’s not easy trying to determine the right course of action, and I appreciate your thoughtful actions to help those in need. Your post makes me realize the importance of giving some forethought on how to be charitable in the right way.


  4. That’s the tough part about charity: not knowing where your money goes. For people who have this doubt, I tell them to donate their time instead. It’s far easier to drop $20 in a can than to spend an hour at a homeless shelter or animal shelter or children’s hospital. But, if you want to know that your investment is being used for the right thing, that’s the way to go.


  5. I send my tithe check to a local mission, as I don’t seem to have sufficient strength to deal with the one on one opportunities like you mentioned: people with signs, or people without signs who just ask. It’s nice to sit down and read your posts, Elizabeth–there’s a peaceful quality in your writing. I hope you have pleasant plans for Thanksgiving ❤


  6. I get a sense of joy knowing i can help someone with the little I have. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at it as enabling before, but maybe that’s because I myself have struggled and just think that poor person needs my help right now. So I do so whenever I can. I’m a sucker for a sob story 😢 I must admit though, I very rarely give money I would much prefer to buy a bag of food. Very thought provoking!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s