“Please ma’am, would you buy me something to eat? I’m hungry.”
I met Geronimo Jones last night while I was waiting for my bus. I had noticed Geronimo standing outside the sandwich shop: Actually, what I had noticed first was the shop employee coming out to speak to a man who, despite being bundled in a heavy winter jacket, had icicles hanging from his beard. It was a cold night in Chicago, with wind chills at -25F and the employee was in a t-shirt. I saw him exchange a few words with the man and go back inside. A few minutes later I saw Geronimo cross the street, asking everyone he passed “Please sir, can you buy me a sandwich? Please ma’am, I haven’t eaten today”. Not one person responded, not one person even stopped or looked the man in the eye. Soon it was my turn. “Please ma’am, I know you’re waiting for your bus, but could you buy me a sandwich? I’m hungry.”
Now, like many of us, a lot of things go through my mind when someone asks me for money; what is their story, what are they really going to use the money for, am I being naive if I hand over a few dollars? But he didn’t ask me for money, he asked me to buy him food. And to be honest, even if he had asked me for money, I may have given it to him.
“Sure, come on, I’ll walk over with you and buy you dinner” I told him. “What’s your name?” I asked him as we stood in line waiting to get some food. “Geronimo Jones” he told me and shook my hand vigorously. I don’t know if Geronimo is his given name or one he adopted for himself, but he seemed very proud of it. He told me that he stays in a hotel with a small microwave but doesn’t have any food. “They got vending machines with Twinkies and candy bars and stuff for a dollar- man it’s hard to look at them all the time when you ain’t got no money to pay for them and you’re hungry”.
The staff at the sandwich shop was less than happy to serve Geronimo; it seemed pretty clear that he had been hanging around for a while trying to get someone to buy him a meal. To be honest, I was a little worried about how he would be treated, so when he urged me to just pay for his food and not wait for them to make it so I wouldn’t miss my bus, I decided to stick around. I read an article a few weeks ago about a young woman in New Orleans who went into the same sandwich chain with a homeless man to buy him a meal and they were both screamed at and berated by the manager. I wanted to make sure Geronimo was able to get his food and, perhaps just as important, was allowed to stay and eat inside where it was warm.
While Geronimo and I were standing in line waiting for food, President Obama was delivering the State of the Union address. The President began his speech by talking about how strong our nation is, pointing out that unemployment is down, people have better access to health care, and saying, “It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong”. But I have to wonder if he means all citizens. The president mentioned extreme poverty once and it was in reference to Africa. Rather than discussing the extreme poverty that exists in the United States, Obama’s speech seemed to focus on the middle class and the working poor. These groups do need assistance, but what about people like Geronimo? Now, I don’t know Geronimo- I don’t know his story, his history, his situation. But I do know that there are ways to provide stability and assistance to people who need it. I hope our government remembers people like Geronimo when they develop, implement, and maintain programs focused on poverty eradication.