Is there really 1 item to rule them all? Debatable. But I vote yes… and my choice might surprise you. At the very least I hope it inspires you to consider always have one, or something similar, on hand. I’m making a case for grocery store gift cards.
Wait what? Yah. Grocery store gift cards. And here’s why I never leave home without one in my bag.
I’ve always lived in a middle class neighborhood. Where most families had access to 2 vehicles, sidewalks were common, theft was petty, and gunfire was almost non existent. That changed when my husband and I moved to Charlotte, NC, and settled into a rental on the East Side.
The East Side
We currently live off a main street filled with bus stops, on a corner that is treated as a major cut through, near laundry mats, dozens of apartment complexes, just a few minuets from downtown. Every time I go anywhere I’m reminded how fortunate I am to own a car. Moms carry their children while balancing large trash bags of laundry. Bus stops are packed with people on their way to work, school, or social gatherings. Signs are held high on corners, asking for food and money. Construction workers walk up and down our street daily, passing our home at 6am and then again at 6pm after a long day of work.
This isn’t some part of town I drive through once a month. This is my home.
Everywhere I’ve lived there have been resources available to those who seek them, whether it’s through city programing, church involvement, or nonprofits. Some folks choose to use those services, and others don’t- for a wide variety of reasons, whether that’s restrictions, preferences, or accessibility. There isn’t one size fits all solution to this ever growing gap of income disparity- because as humans we aren’t one size fits all.
Just look at your own life. The unique stories and experiences that made you who you are. While similarities are shared, and experiences might be similar in many ways, there are always differences unique to each of us. Why would solutions be any different? We do a great job treating them like they aren’t. And an even better job treating people who are different from us like they’re a problem.
Whenever I had a few singles on hand, I’d slip them here or pass them out there. Occasionally, I donated time to grocery shop for different nonprofits who served underprivileged families. You know, do good things for the people who helped people.
The Grocery Store Visit That Changed Everything
I was approached at a local grocery store by an older gentleman who wanted some money for food. On my way up to the door I was thinking- well I don’t have cash on me, and I don’t want to get close to people (you know the pandemic and junk). There were easily 4 people that just blew past this guy, not even looking at him as he asked for help.
His eyes told me what I needed to know. So I told him that I didn’t have cash, but that if he was still outside when I got finished I’d have something for him. Yah ok lady. Which is nothing he said out loud, but can only imagine were words running through his mind. As promised I came out with a few bucks and handed them over. His eyes watered as he said- Thank you for seeing me. You’re the only one who saw me today. And my heart wept as he turned around and went inside to go grab some food.
To be so preoccupied with one’s self, that someone else isn’t seen. That’s not a world I want to live in. That’s not the community I wan’t to foster. That’s not who I want to be.
And for anyone automatically thinking this must have been the first time I saw someone in need. That’s a no. This was simply the first time someone thanked me for seeing them…
Her Kids Were Bundled Up
It was just a month or two later, at this same grocery story, that a young mom had this old beat up civic pulled up to the curb near the front door. Her two little girls were in the backseat playing a game, wrapped up in blankets to fight the ice cold evening chill. She was standing in front of her car with a box of candy, chips, sodas… asking for donations. Every time someone would drop a dollar or two into the box, she’d pick it up and show it to her little girls who would jump up and down in the backseat. They knew what it meant.
Again, I didn’t have any cash, because who has cash laying around these days? Half the shops and businesses I support don’t even accept cash anymore!
I saw her supply was on the low side, so while I was grabbing some groceries I picked up a few gift cards. Not much, just $15 a pop, and I slipped one to her on my way out. I told her to go grab what she needed to keep her box full so she could keep making money without having to spend it. There weren’t any words needed, they were felt between us.
And Then Again
I now had 2 gift cards left and decided to keep one in my purse and the other in my car. A few weeks later, I was dropping off some mail at USPS and a young man walked up asking for some money for food. We were about to get our first snow of the year, and this part of the USA isn’t prepared to handle snow in any capacity. It was just hours before the forecast predicted inches would fall, and most folks were already in the process of stocking up for a long weekend without being able to travel.
Did he really need groceries? I couldn’t tell you. But honestly, it didn’t matter and shouldn’t matter. The act of giving has everything to do with the giver and not the receiver.
I am responsible for what leaves my hands, my heart, and my mouth. Not what the other person does with it.
I looked at him and said- I’m so sorry but I don’t carry cash on me. I do have a grocery store gift card if you want? He smiled, nodding his head. I passed off another $15 gift card. First thing he did was turn around and start walking to the grocery story behind us.
Immediately, I added grocery store gift cards to my next grocery list. These 3 grocery store gift cards had lasted me several weeks, how could I not have more on hand? To be able to use them directly for folks who ask for and need food/groceries. Can I promise they didn’t use them to buy a bottle of wine, or snacks, of 2 liters of soda or… let me just stop right here. Does it matter? Don’t we all love our own versions of comfort food and beverage?
Grocery Store Gift Cards Make a Positive Impact
I wish I was better off and could keep dozens of grocery cards laying around and ready to hand out daily. But I’m not. However, I now make it a point to always have one ready, because when I-know-that-I-know it’s a moment to give, I’m ready to give. Ready to bless someone who might least expect it.
In case you weren’t aware, it’s estimated that 1 in 6 children live in food-insecure households. With benefits such as SNAP providing under $2 a meal. It is also estimated that homelessness has risen by 2% between 2019 and 2020. Additional data as it relates to the pandemic and it’s affects on homelessness won’t be available until 2023.
Just because you might not be seeing it unless you drive through “that side of town” doesn’t mean it’s not there. There are so many struggles I’ve never had to walk through, and even though this isn’t my story, doesn’t make it (or them) any less important.
My story can and will include the ability to make a difference in someone else’s story. If you’re honestly not sure where to start, just remember one thing- change is a destination of small steps. Start small, stay consistent. Every decision you make impacts not only you, but others around you too.
Let Me Know
Do you plan on purchasing grocery store gift cards in the near future? I’d love to know down below! It’s the smallest, yet consistent, acts of kindness that make a long term impact. And where better to start than your local community. Your own neighborhood. Outside your own grocery stores. In a world filled with such distrust, hate, and selfishness, there is still so much beauty and goodness… and I challenge you to be the one who spreads it… and to not the one who causes such pain.
If this post inspired you in any way, I’d love you to share it with a friend of family member. Spreading hope and actively supporting one another is a lifestyle, not just something you do sometimes. It really can be just as simple as keeping a grocery store gift card ready to give at all times!
Hugs, because handshakes are awkward~