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One thing to do with a Starbucks gift card

Original post made by Menlo Park resident, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park, on Dec 15, 2006

A $10 Starbucks gift card is a terrible thing to waste, right, so I went out last night to downtown Palo Alto to find a homeless person who might want it. Starbucks coffee is good, but so what. I'd rather patronize local stores that enrich the character of my own community.

A lot of people feel this way, so I wasn't surprised when the first man I asked refused the card. He claimed that visiting a Starbucks hurt his feet. I couldn't really press him -- he rambled -- but a friend suggested that he's on his feet a lot and may not like long lines.

The next man was more coherent. He didn't want the card either, but explained it as a principled objection to buying corporate coffee. A kindred spirit. I offered him some pocket change, which he accepted. I should have given him more.

He pointed across University Avenue. We both knew that a young woman with a great attitude often sits over there asking for money. I found her and it couldn't have been better. She thanked me in a way that made me forget about giving money to multi-national corporations and other distinctions that really don't matter that much in the end.

But I'll do the same thing next week or next year if I get another Starbucks card for Christmas.

Comments (3)

Posted by TicToc
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 16, 2006 at 5:56 am

Your principled giving is very nice. I caution you, however, that you place yourself at risk. The incoherent person you mentioned was likely on drugs. What if he decided to take more than your Starbucks card? Were you prepared to deal with that possibility? How would you feel if the woman to whom you gave the card bartered it for drugs or alchohol?

I suggest that the better way is to get out your checkbook and make a fat donation to an organization who CAN help the homeless: the Shelter Network, Red Cross, etc.

You may sleep better at night giving away your Starbucks cards, but you may get hurt or robbed in the process.

Posted by Menlo Park resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 18, 2006 at 4:06 pm

I'm not sure Tic Toc is from around here. The streets of downtown Palo Alto at around 9:30 p.m. in mid December are pretty safe.

The homeless men I spoke with regarding the Starbucks card are older, and anyway, if I can't trust my instincts, life would be dull indeed.

This was not my first encounter with homeless people in Palo Alto.

I have walked blocks with a homeless man who had a wonderful Rainman-like quality to him, talking constantly and asking simple questions. He wanted directions. I couldn't figure out where he wanted to go so, with him chattering all the way, we walked to the local Whole Foods and I bought him some hot soup. What a great feeling that was. He was great company, too.

A homeless man once who stopped me in a crosswalk on a sleepy street and told me I could have a conversation with him if I gave him some money. I gave him 50 cents and we had a brief and memorable exchange.

A homeless woman once asked me for money and I told her I would give her some if she promised she would tell me where she came from. She had a lovely and mysterious accent. I gave her a couple of bucks, but she refused -- with a clever smile -- to tell me where she was from. As she got on a bus, I recall asking her to "C'mon, tell me," but she just ignored me.

When I was making more money than I am now, I heard very elaborate sob stories from at least two homeless guys that led me to give them $20 each. I figured out later that they had lied to me, but hey, I don't care.

Once, a Chinese woman who could barely speak English ... well, I'll stop now. I think you get the idea.

I prefer to think that we live in a society where direct interaction with one's fellow human beings is still possible, particularly in a suburb where no one seems to rub shoulders with anyone outside their own sphere.

Posted by Menlo Park resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 19, 2006 at 1:10 pm

Oh, and another thing: my giving is not principled. It comes from the heart.

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