'Guilt Foods' Shakedown

I went into Whole (Guilt) Foods market today to get some lunch. On my way in, I took casual note of the fact that a "charity worker" was waiting outside the exit. I made the conscious decision to avoid him. Briefly, here is my rationale:

There are far too many social problems to be solved by any single charity. There are thousands of charities nationwide who collect funds under a variety of umbrellas for a variety of causes. While I have no problem supporting specific groups, (I donate regularly to several political action groups, and provide occasional donations to other general charities), I don’t like the idea of being pressured or guilted in any way to donate. Donations must be made freely, from one’s own strong interior desire to make a difference. It’s a very personal decision. That’s why it’s called charity. If it was an obligation, it would be called a tax. And I already pay enough taxes.

So this is why I don’t think anyone should be allowed to solicit donations anywhere near a food store. It’s obvious why these organizations place their workers there: It provides a perfect opportunity to play on people’s guilt. The implication is, "you can afford to feed yourself, so you’re a real shmuck if you don’t give us money to feed people who CAN’T afford it." Right.

I remember one night in San Francisco–a city with particularly aggressive panhandlers–my girlfriend and I came out of a restaurant. A transient approached us and said gruffly, "Can I have three dollars?" (Three dollars…., it used to be "can I have some change?") I opened my mouth to speak, but my girlfriend beat me to it, and told the guy (in colorful language) to get lost. "Well, you just ate!" he sputtered, as if that gave him license to steal from us. I said to him "Do something useful, and you can eat too." He slunk off into the night.

I didn’t feel a lot different coming out of Whole Foods. Apparently the "collectors" have been trained to be aggressive. As I left the store I made eye contact with the collector, and made a hard left turn to avoid him and walk directly to my car. We then had the following exchange, for which I have provided the unsaid part of the conversation, [subtext translation in brackets]:

Me: Eye contact and clear body language–turning away walking fast. [Don’t bother me, I’m not interested in donating.]

Collector: "God bless you sir, and have a nice day." [Why are you such a cheap bastard? How dare you leave the store with food and not donate any money?]

Me: "Hey, you know, accosting people outside this store is inappropriate." [I don’t respond to your guilt trip.]

Collector: "I just said ‘God bless you.’" [Don’t you believe in God? Don’t you understand that God will judge you if you don’t donate?]

Me: "I don’t really need your god’s blessings." [No, and that’s no excuse for shaking people down, why don’t you go EARN some money and donate THAT, if you’re so concerned?]

Collector: "Whatever…Thank you sir, you have a nice day." [Fuck you.]

Me: "You’re not welcome." [Fuck you, too.]

So maybe I was a little pissy with the guy. But I really don’t like being hit up for money. I think it’s high time someone stood up to these people. Because, really, this is outrageous. It’s nothing but legitimized panhandling. Whole Foods has a sign that they do not support the solicitations. Clearly, they are aware of the problem. But if they don’t run these people off their property and have them arrested, they are tacitly agreeing to this shakedown. Basically, I have three choices: 1) Don’t shop at Whole Foods, 2) Pay this guy a bribe to shut up and leave me alone, or 3) Have an unpleasant confrontation.

It’s actually a double shakedown, because the stores also have "food donation cards" at the checkstand, just to make sure you don’t forget that you can donate. (I don’t mind the donation cards–they’re pretty discreet, but when you throw in the "exit guard," on top of it all, it’s a bit much.) I’m going to start calling it "Guilt Foods."

People who shop at Whole Foods are already above average in income, above average in social consciousness, and above average in their awareness and support for causes. They are mostly progressives who buy green power, recycle, and skew towards socialism. They already care more than average about other people and the planet. They also probably donate large sums to various causes on a regular basis. Of all people, Whole Foods customers don’t need these kinds of patronizing and insulting reminders.

I think from now on, I will approach the collector before I go in the store and tell him I’m secular, and to please not bother asking me for money, that I already donate to secular charities. At least that way I get to make a pre-emptive strike, give the guy a little something to think about, and earn a peaceful walk to my car.

Comments (5 comments)

olly / September 29th, 2006, 11:53 am / #1

Very well put Sean, though I take a slightly different tactic with panhandlers. Bums up here in Seattle are fairly low-key… they’ll ask for change, you say sorry, or no, or whatever, and they say “Have a nice day” and you both go on about your business. Maybe it’s the uber-politeness of the Pacific NW, but even the bums are refined.

However, when I’m in a particularly giving mood, and a bum asks me for coinage, I will always ask what they are going to use it for? NOt really to be confrontational (though some certainly take it that way), but out of genuine curiosity for how MY hard earned money will be spent if I part with it. Usually the answer is one of two things: a.) Food, b.) Bus Ticket (not sure why, but it happens a lot).

In either instance, I simply offer to go with the bum to buy each. If they want to get on the bus, hell, I’ll drop in a buck to help them out, but I’ll take them to the bus and drop it in myself. If they want food, I’ll offer to take them to McD’s and buy them a cheeseburger for a buck.

This does two things: first, it usually weeds out about half of them, as they are looking for money for some other reason (booze, sex, whatever, pay for your own addictions like I do mine). Secondly, if they take me up on it, I can usually talk to them while waiting for a bus or walking to McDonalds. I’ve always found bum’s stories fascinating, so I make a point of asking how they ended up where they are. Some will philander, of course, but there are some amazingly brutally honest bums out there.

To hear someone give an honest, no holds barred assessment of their own fuck-ups that brought them to the state they are in… well, lets just say it’s worht a buck to hear someone tell the truth for once.


BlackSun / September 29th, 2006, 7:09 pm / #2

Olly, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked by these guys and just ignored them. But lately I’ve been getting sick of it. Last week it was outside of 7/11. I had just worked like a 13 hour day, and had no cash on me. I paid for my snack with an ATM card, and the panhandler kept bugging me for change. When I said I didn’t have any, he pointed to my car (a Prius) and said, “Well you have a nice car.” I just said “Don’t hassle me” and left.

My sister did what you did, and used to offer people food instead of money. A lot of times she found that the people would turn down the food because they were *picky eaters*! Now if that doesn’t take the cake, a transient turning down food because it wasn’t what they wanted. Only in America…

But seriously, I’ll have to try your tactic of asking them to tell me a story. I think it would be entertaining. Who knows, they might give me an idea I can use!

Cheers, dude, as always, enjoy the conversation. The book list is coming…

AmenASHandF / January 30th, 2009, 5:03 pm / #3

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AmenASHandF / February 2nd, 2009, 3:13 am / #4

I too always found doing what Olly does was and has always been the human way to go. Being nasty, hateful and annoied at someone who clearly knows what s/he is doing but lacking the dignity not to do so, because of their mental and emotional state, is just not civilized and progressive. If charities were doing what they are ment to do, there wouldn't be an issue of panhandling period. I too have found it interesting and fullfilling to find out how many of these panhandlers ended up as they had. So much of it is a death of their spirits-their emotional and mental well being empty,a numbness. And endless spaced out look at their lives and future. I have also met many who sell something in return, though the quality of the product is that found in $ stores, at least they're not as begging for money but asking to buy a little something to help them get by. I did this and still have the stain glass as a reminder of this clean, happy very poor man, who sang well. Who was trying and doing what he could to be a decent, respectable human being. —-continued

AmenASHandF / February 2nd, 2009, 3:20 am / #5

And these types go to churches that allow them the use of their showers to bath and stay clean. Though they are still homeless, they are given the opportunity to walk with some dignity.
Charities need to imrpove on their ways in dealing with this age old issue and reality. It's the charities and the system that are annoying, not the individual who's lost.

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