The Shoe Sale and the Vagrant

The story starts with a shoe sale, a closing out shoe sale in a local shopping mall.  I am telling you this story not to bring attention to an act of kindness but to raise awareness that it isn't only in the USA that people get in trouble for feeding those who are hungry.

We were both waiting patiently for something good to happen, sitting quietly in the food court.  I was sipping my coffee and chowing down on a couple of scrambled eggs while I passed the ten minutes until the shoe store opened their doors.  He was dishevelled and hungry, waiting and watching for someone with a soft heart.  By his own account he was "down on his luck" and wondered if the "kind lady" would buy him breakfast with "coffee and the whole shebang."  And so I did.  I bought him the whole shebang and gave him the receipt so he could wait to pick it up from the counter himself.  He was very well-spoken offering his thanks graciously.  Then he sat down to eat.

He ate like a man who hadn't had a square meal in days.  While he ate, I sat at the table just across the aisle waiting for that fabulous sale to begin.  Suddenly a lady leaned over me from behind, startling me. Why she didn't have the courage or the courtesy to approach in my line of sight or to introduce herself is a bit of a puzzle.  She was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the Southgate Mall logo. The first words out of her mouth were a stern, "Did you buy that man breakfast?"  The rest of the conversation went like this -

Me:  "Yes"
Southgate Lady in a scolding tone with the emphasis on the word "not":  "You are not allowed to buy him breakfast."
Me - tell me I'm not allowed and you just invited a scrap:  "It's my ten bucks, I will spend it how I so choose."
Southgate Lady softening somewhat:  "You are right it is your ten dollars..."

She made the right choice in not engaging me full-on at that point because my ire had been raised very effectively.  She left me alone and sat  down with three other Southgate logo emblazoned folks at a table just behind me.  My new friend and I were under surveillance, or maybe they were just having a coffee break.  I was going to have to sit there a tad longer than expected if I wanted my friend to be able to finish the breakfast he had in front of him.  So I sat.  While I sat the security guards showed up to keep an eye on both of us from a distance.  I wondered how buying someone breakfast had turned into such an event.  Now I really had to stay put until my friend finished because we were in it together.

He finished quite quickly and promptly fell sound asleep sitting up at the table.  I had a sale to check out and meetings to get to, it was time to have a chat with the security guards.  They had taken up their post about thirty feet away, so I just walked right up and told them what I would like them to do.

I politely said, "I have two requests of you.  Please wake him up gently and when you remove him, do so with respect and dignity."

Security guard #1 smiled and seemed to be good with my request.  The other felt the need to further aggravate me by saying "Ma'am you know he's inebriated..." I had to bite my lip from not being sarcastic or scathing.  Before he went any further, I cut him off and told him I didn't care, that all I expected was that they would remove him in a way that showed respect and dignity.  The three employees I encountered in the midst of this little brouhaha, all had choices about how they conducted themselves with a patron and with a vagrant who became a patron when he had a receipt in hand for his breakfast.

One choice was to demonstrate some humanity and assure me that it was important to the organization and to them personally to treat people with dignity and respect at all times and in all situations.  Problem averted; I would have gone on my way happy and without a need to tell you.  The second choice was to escalate by being condescending to a patron of the establishment.  Security guard #2 chose escalation not once but twice even after I tried to reassure him that he was a fine young man and I knew he would do the right thing.  The escalation choice was really, really dumb given the uproar at another Edmonton mall within the last week because security guards acted in a ridiculous and heavy-handed way with an upstanding member of the First Nations community.  Really dumb because it made it impossible for me to not tell you the story that started with a shoe sale.

The shoe sale was a bust, but I somehow managed to waltz right into the midst of some civil disobedience by feeding my friend.  I reached the parking lot and turned on my engine.  The vehicle came to life and so did CBC with a news story about some pastors in Florida who were arrested and fined for feeding the hungry.  Whew, at least in Alberta they aren't arresting us yet.  I had no idea that buying breakfast for someone needy would turn into such a fiasco.

I'm not naive.  I have lived long enough to know that the issues around homelessness are complex and I understand the mall's desire to maintain a premise free of vagrants.  They aren't really good for business, you know.  I admit to being conflicted about the whole issue of vagrancy.  Part of me doesn't want to see someone who is needy while I am contemplating buying shoes I don't need.  The other part of me is brought to tears at the thought of being able to fill one man's belly for one morning, and the shame that we live in a place of such abundance yet we have the hungry and the homeless among us.  I don't have the answers, but I did have an experience that will stay with me a long time.  Something to ponder and think on.  Enough said -



  1. This gives me a better understanding of you Joy Monsma!!


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