Idea: Turn panhandling into a game and help those truly in need

Yesterday during the day I got to thinking… if you give money to a panhandler on the street, there’s a very low probability that your money will be used for food or shelter, even if that’s what they say it’s for. There’s a much higher probability it will be used to support the illegal drug trade in Memphis, or to buy a drunk a drink.

But, people have a natural desire to want to help others. When they see a panhandler on the streets, it reminds them of the issues the homeless struggle with, even though the panhandler approaching them probably isn’t homeless himself. It puts them in a “helping, giving” frame of mind.

So, I have an idea.

Take a look at the list of the charities at the end of this post. All of these do good work to feed, shelter and support the homeless. If you give money to these organizations, there’s a 100% chance your money will be put to good use, as compared to (this is a guesstimate) ~10% if you give to a panhandler on the street. Wouldn’t you like to see your money go 10 times as far?

So, let’s play a game. Research the charities at the end of this post and pick the one that you like best. Then make a commitment to yourself that every time you get panhandled on the street, you will donate an amount you determine – a quarter, a dollar, etc. – to your selected charity.

Then go about business as usual. When a panhandler approaches, politely say no with a smile. Then, when you get home, drop a quarter or dollar or whatever your designated amount is into a cup or jar. If you get panhandled four times during the day, you owe four donations to your private fund.

When the cup or jar gets full, it’s time to make the donation to the charity. If you’re really busy, you can put the money back in the bank and write a check. But if you have time, it might be more meaningful to actually take the money down to the charity yourself, take a tour, get familiar on a first-hand basis with the work they do.

Let’s play The Panhandling Game and support the street people Downtown who truly want and need our help.


This is a list of resources Downtown to feed and aid the homeless. As you can see, those on the streets have access to at least two free meals every day, sometimes more. Downtowners who wish to help the homeless are encouraged to support these organizations, rather than give money directly to panhandlers.

Calvary Episcopal Church, 102 N. Second – Hospitality HUB, open Wednesday and Friday, 1:00 to 4:00 PM, offers worship; spiritual guidance; traveler’s aid; help getting birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and state IDs for employment; lockers; computer access; and coffee and conversation. Free breakfast offered on Sunday mornings.

First Presbyterian Church, 166 Poplar – Soup kitchen every Sunday afternoon; clothes closet for the homeless Sundays 1:30-3:30 PM distributes work clothes and hygiene kits; vouchers for three area shelters handed out on Sunday afternoons.

Memphis Union Mission, 383 Poplar – Dinner + chapel + night’s shelter + breakfast for $6 a night, with four nights free a month, and free when below 32 degrees. Check-in by 6 PM. You can buy voucher books to hand out to panhandlers in lieu of money. Free lunches daily.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 155 Market – Soup kitchen 6 days a week, Monday-Saturday, with praise songs at 6:30 AM; coffee and cookies 7:30 AM; a meat sandwich, soup, and a treat between 9 and 10 AM; patrons may come back for all the peanut butter sandwiches they can eat.

The Street Ministry, 600 Poplar – Assistance for those with substance abuse, dependency, and mental illness problems. Participants are given vouchers for the Union Mission in exchange for their willingness to enter treatment, seek employment, support others, and address their primary issues.