Bill Boegeman’s “Alms at the exits? A shift in my street-corner strategy” (Dec. 20) was spot-on in describing his shift in recoiling from the hand in need to extending a hand with alms. But perhaps the strategy could go one step further. Instead of “sometimes choos[ing] to give,” why not give at all times?

Panhandling has been a thorn in communities’ sides since the haves and have-nots, and the debates have been plentiful. But at the end of the day, at the end of that exit ramp, the reality of someone in need — for whatever reason good or bad — is now at your window, in your face, front and center. Interestingly, the immediate default is to distrust their agenda, defining it as being a lie, cheating or not playing by the rules, instead of defaulting to the possibility that there just might be a genuine reason.

A hand is extended, and I don’t know the agenda or purpose, nor am I hardly the one to assess the legitimacy. Choosing to give only sometimes would put me in a misplaced position of having to pass judgment. Which one today? And how do I assess legitimacy, and by whose measure? Therefore, I would rather roll my dice in giving at all times, with the chance of connecting with one, rather than denying all and thus missing the one.

So I choose to give every time, as long as I am able to, or until the light turns green. I carry $1 bills with me, should I have the privilege to meet a hand at the next exit. It’s a lousy buck or two that I can spare. I hope he/she gets many today. After all, ’tis the season.

Juliann Brunzell, Minneapolis

• • •

Bill Boegeman says he gives to the street-corner panhandlers who are common by our highways out of an admirable sense of charity. And he gives knowing that the panhandlers may truly be down on their luck or they may be scammers or buying drugs with their money.

Our calculation also includes the fact that all of these people are out in the cold and rain and wind, sometimes with their school-age children, because they are paid to be there by you and I through our handouts. They could be in a warmer, dryer, healthier and more stable environment if we had the self-control to resist their pleas and instead give to shelters and food banks. That’s how we choose to donate.

Kurt and Barb Klussendorf, St. Paul

• • •

Two incidents in my life came to mind when I read the “panhandling” article. Many years ago, the PBS NewsHour had an extraordinary journalist who did the most memorable piece on this subject I’ve ever seen or read.

He stationed himself in a rundown area of New York City and let the camera show how people were trying to stay alive in a bitterly cold winter in makeshift cardboard-box shelters. The essayist sounded on the verge of tears when he ended his report: “Do not pass them by.” Then, silence as the camera again showed one human being after another just struggling to survive. “Do not pass them by.”

Some years later, when I was waiting at a red light near Franklin and Portland avenues, a beggar came up and I immediate rolled down the window and handed over some dollar bills. “Thank you,” she murmured and slowly walked away to … where and what? Seconds later, a cop pulled up. “Why did you do that? She’ll just drink it up.” “Do you know her, officer?” “They’re all alike. Don’t waste your money on them. They’ll just drink it up.” I was tempted to say, “If I had to live like that, I might drink it up, too.” For once, I kept my mouth shut and drove on.

My late father, Arthur Shapira, had his faults, but he always taught my brother and me: “Have some rachmones (compassion) for the other guy.”

That stuck with me throughout my life.

I give “them” what I can, when I can. Maybe they’ll drink it up; maybe they’ll buy some of the essentials of life. I don’t know, and I don’t need to know.

What I do know is that I never will pass them by.

Willard B. Shapira, Roseville

 

NONPROFITS

CEO salaries are eye-popping, especially in health care fields

The Star Tribune does a real service in publishing its annual review of nonprofits, most recently on Dec. 20 (“Renewal through growth,” Business).

Most of us have the mental image of nonprofits as organizations like the Salvation Army — lots of volunteers, poorly paid staff, and facilities and resources about to collapse — or maybe groups like Elpis Enterprises in the accompanying story, self-described as “bare bones” (“Getting a nonprofit off the grounds is tricky”).

Then we turn to the long columns of fine print and remember that “nonprofit” is simply a niche in the tax code as we read about a nonprofit top officer making $2,917,827 and scan down to see that most of the top 25 are health care related and commonly have CEOs making $1 million to $3 million.

That’s health care money; in many countries with perfectly efficient health care systems, insurance companies with their enormous revenues and high-paid executives don’t exist. We wonder why our health care is so expensive; that’s part of the answer.

John Sherman, Moorhead, Minn.

 

MENTAL HEALTH

Public TV deserves kudos, too, for its anti-stigma programming

Thank you to the Star Tribune Editorial Board for its endorsement of the Make It OK program to counteract stigma against mental illness (“Removing the stigma of mental health care,” Dec. 21). While this program grew out of the Regions Hospital and HealthPartners project to build a new eight-story mental health building on the Regions campus, it also received strong participation from NAMI-Minnesota and Twin Cities Public Television (TPT). All but TPT were mentioned in the editorial. TPT provided a unique, essential component of this anti-stigma program, featuring the stories of many ordinary folks or their families who had experienced mental illness. For its powerful work, TPT received a regional Emmy in the documentary division, a well-deserved honor. My guess is that there are many who sought and received help because of that TPT series, and those bettered lives are the real trophies for TPT’s fine work.

Mary McLeod, St. Paul

 

POACHING

Now it’s elephants being killed in Cameroon, and who cares?

Would someone please step forward and explain something to me? I read that the slaughter of elephants in Cameroon has reached “disturbing proportions.” Twenty endangered forest elephants were killed between Dec. 14 and 19 (“Poachers kill elephants at an alarming rate, Dec. 22).

Where are all of the people who came out of the woodwork when Cecil the lion was killed? Why isn’t there the same type of uproar? Just because those poachers most likely aren’t Americans shouldn’t make any difference — they are still endangered animals. Could it be that we think we are supposed to be held to a higher standard than people from other countries? I thought it was about wildlife, not humans. I don’t get it.

Dave Colburn, Hayfield, Minn.

 

HOLIDAY GREETINGS

Christmas letters? Bring ’em on!

I loved James Lileks’ Christmas letter spoof, and I must say that I love Christmas letters and keeping up with old classmates and many other friends. You must remember that this is Minnesota, land of Lake Wobegon —  where all the women are strong, the men are good looking and all the children are above average.

Jane Scanlon, Rochester