Has anyone ever said charity isn't dead? I remember me and a friend of mine got into a discussion about giving $20 to a man who was asking for change. It was a very powerful moment but since I'm rarely trusting of random people I almost frowned and I was thinking you've got to be kidding me.
Pete Kadens, a Chicago entrepreneur, and Troy McCullough, a homeless man, met, by chance, one chilly morning eight days ago.
Kadens had arrived early for a 6:45 a.m. conference in the West Loop. He was sitting in his warm car and noticed a man in a well-worn shirt and tie, outside the offices of StreetWise, the newspaper sold by homeless people.
It was McCullough, waiting for the doors to open at 7 a.m. so he'd be first to get his bundle of papers.
McCullough, 52, looked like "he had a mission," according to Kadens, who invited him in from the cold, to wait in his car.
They started talking. McCullough told Kadens how he'd come to live on the streets. He talked about his wife's death in 1996, about a major stroke he had two years later, and how he'd lost his laborer's job after that. He was in a nursing home a while but, with no long-term care insurance, ended up living in alleys, parks and churches.
He'd had some tough breaks, McCullough said, but he kept selling his papers six days a week, didn't drink or use drugs and always made it to church, not missing a Sunday in the last year.
Kadens listened. He ended up being late for the conference.
What struck him, he said, was, "that every one of us is only a few bad breaks from being like Troy."
Kadens wanted to help. But first he issued McCullough a challenge: Be here tomorrow morning, and I'll see what I can do.
The next day, a Sunday, McCullough was there at 6:45 that morning in suit and tie.
Kadens gave him $200. Then, he went home, set up a Web site -- www.savetroy.com -- and e-mailed about 50 friends and business associates. He asked them to help him raise $10,300 -- what he figured it would cost for a studio apartment, basic furnishings, groceries and medical care for McCullough for a year. If McCullough could bank at least 70 percent of his StreetWise sales, Kadens figured, he'd have $12,480 in a year, enough to cover a second year of expenses.
Personally I wouldn't give $20 to a homeless person, but my orientation is that I would donate to a good charity who can help these people who are down on their luck. I generally frown on this idea of the welfare state, taking people's taxes in order to take care of these people with the belief that people are generally selfish and that welfare is the only way to take care of these people. This story proves that isn't the only answer to a problem.
Still I'm not sure I would go all out for a person I really don't know even if he wasn't very decent. I don't like to talk that way, really. However the great thing about this story is to say that charity isn't dead. Perhaps if there was one person we could help in life whoever they are and whatever their station in life I wonder how many good stories we can tell. Hopefully those stories can make it into the papers.