“Work for Food”



The man stood by the crossing holding a cardboard sign that read:  “Work for food.” I wondered how long he had stood there in the oppressive heat with nothing to cover his balding head. By his feet lay a plastic shopping bag, a back-up sign, and what looked like a tarp from some military surplus store, heaped with all his meager belongings.

I began to wonder as I drove away if he would eat that day. Would a concerned soul offer him a job or a meal; it was getting late in the afternoon. I tried to catch a parting glimpse of him via the rear-view mirror. I thought to myself, “Was he homeless perhaps? Or maybe just an itinerant wanderer?” I didn’t know what to think. But I’ve always been one to lean toward the right – that if I have to wash dishes, flip burgers or dig ditches to eat I would. It bothered me to think about how could such a man allow himself to descend into the pits so that he has to beg for food?

I know I am judging and I shouldn’t. Forgive me. There are a myriad reasons why we do the things we do. For all I know he could be an undercover agent on a stake out. Or a man stepping out to avoid being sequestered at home with his nagging wife. Who knows? And here I am playing “here come the judge…”.

I arrived at the grocery store, bought the items on my shopping list and on the way out stopped at the store’s food counter. “A double cheeseburger, fries, large soda to go please.” I retraced the same route home. Yup there he was, sign in hand, still hoping, still waiting. Pulling over to the side where he stood I turned on my emergency signal as I stepped out of my vehicle to approach him. A surprised look formed on his face. He probably expected me to offer him a job. I handed him the bag of food. “Just a little something… hope it helps.”

Reaching for the bag, he looked into my eyes momentarily. I saw his eyes grow misty. They glistened in the afternoon sun. He took hold of the bag and with a parched voice he said, “May God bless you brother. Thank you.” I wept all the way home. I know the statistic: We are only one paycheck away from being homeless.


“I believed Cha…

“I believed Charity began and stayed at home, until a complete stranger helped me and my family get unstuck from a freeway exit ramp because our car had blown a tire, ran out of gas and was disabled…”

Especially for a minority immigrant like me and my family, the early sixties in the Southland were precarious days to be traveling on the road – to put it mildly. Serving in the Navy I was moving my family from Sanford to Jacksonville on a permanent change of duty station orders.

It rained sheets during the drive that day reducing visibility down to a couple of feet. Hesitantly, I parked my old Chevy off to the side of the road. I figured at least I, my wife and baby would be safe since we’re not moving. But we weren’t to be spared. A small pick up truck grazed our rear end, jolting us a bit but not too roughly. It was a hit and run. The pick up truck quickly disappeared into the mist.

We waited an hour more for the rain to subside then resumed our trip. It never occurred to me to inspect the car for possible damage before moving on. Coming closer to Jacksonville we entered the exit to Cecil Field. While in the curve the car blew a tire careening into the guardrail. I had no time to panic; the car was slowing down. It was out of gas. The hit and run punctured our gas tank. The gas spilled as we drove along. There were no phones.

To get help we waited for a highway patrol officer to come by. There were no such police vehicles on the road. In the quickly darkening twilight a pick up truck pulled up behind us. The gentleman driver hopped out from the cab, extended his hand to shake mine. Grinning he said in a deep Southern drawl, “Howdy! Ya’ll need some help?”

To make a long story short the gentleman took care of all our needs, getting a tow truck to tow our disabled car to the nearest shop, driving us to Cecil Field to check in at Navy Housing, and buying us a hot meal at the local A & W. After he was satisfied we would be okay, he bade us farewell. “If you’re ever in the Lone Star State, look me up in the phone book. The name’s Billy Bob Berenson.”