“You shouldn’t have done that, he’s a drunk,” waitress tells woman who pays for homeless man’s food

Mary Duncan

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.*

I am a mixed bag of conflicting ideas when it comes to charitable giving. For one thing, I am an excellent tipper. If my service at a restaurant is horrible, I will still tip my server twenty percent, but be sure I will also let their manager know everything they did wrong and so I often get comped meals or coupons for sharing my opinions. I even tip at the Starbucks or Dunkin’ drive-thru windows, because those people work an awful lot harder than I do and get paid a lot less. They deserve it. I’d tip fast food workers too if I thought they could or would accept tips, so maybe I need to find that out.

On the other hand, I don’t like giving to charities because I know so many are corrupt and the money I donate may not go to those who actually need it most.

I’ll skip putting my change in a Salvation Army bucket, but I will do things like offer to buy coffee for the homeless men and women who linger outside the gas station I frequent. No, I won’t give them my cash or change, but if they want a hot drink, I’m there for them. It’s sad how often though when I offer someone asking for money a coffee instead, they get very rude and feel entitled to more.

The way I look at it, I don’t know whether the money I’ve earned and am willing to give away is going to go to something like drugs or alcohol. I don’t want that to be the case, so instead, I’ll offer drinks or food. People, even the poorest of the poor, and even if they are drunks or drug addicts, still deserve the decency and dignity of having a hot meal.

My last waitressing job was at a big, busy family-owned restaurant that kept me running for customers all night. I enjoyed the nights when my assigned section was the counter, where the majority of people who took a stool there were older, single men. Many of them were Veterans who had great stories to tell of their time in the service, and they were for the most part all very polite and kind to me.

One day a man came in and sat at the counter and as I walked up to him with a coffee pot in hand, ready to offer him some, he looked up at me and held out a hand.

“Can you tell me how much it is first, the coffee?”

“Two-fifty with free refills,” I told him, and it looked like his heart sank. He asked for water instead, and I left him with a menu.

A few minutes later I went back to take his order.

“Just a side of toast, please,” he said quietly, not looking up at me.

I leaned down on the counter, getting my face closer to his. 

“I’ll give you whatever you want if you can’t afford it,” I told him. “The meatloaf special is good today, it comes with broccoli and mashed potatoes, and even a bread pudding for dessert.”

The man looked up at me with widened eyes.

“You’d really do that for me? I only have two dollars,” he said, and I could see he was trying to hold back tears.

“Don’t worry about it,” I told him. I paid for his meatloaf dinner with my fifty percent off employee discount, delivered it to him when it was ready, and walked away with a smile to let him enjoy it as I went about my business.

A few moments later another waitress came up to me and asked if I had just given that man free food.

“No, I paid for it for him,” I assured her, scared that she would tell on me to my boss, but that wasn’t her problem.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” she said with a sneer of disgust, “He’s a total drunk you know. He buys liquor next store and then just sits behind the building half the day drinking out of a paper bag.”

“Well, I didn’t give him booze or money, I gave him a meal.”

“Not worth it,” she said, shaking her head, “He’s only going to expect it from you all the time now.”

But she couldn’t have been more wrong. The man did come in again, but not for months, and when he did come in again he was freshly shaved, looking like a new person, and he paid for his breakfast plus gave me a tip.

Some people may think so, but I don’t think being an alcoholic is a good reason not to be treated with dignity when you’re down on your luck and in need of a hot meal.

What do you think? Would you have bought him a meal or turned him away?

Hi, I hope you enjoyed this story! I am a freelance writing single mom trying to create a better life for me and my daughter through words. If you enjoyed this, please consider leaving a small donation: https://ko-fi.com/maryduncan

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I write about the weird complexities of relationships to make a better life for me and my daughter through words. https://ko-fi.com/maryduncan

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