Two Slices of Pizza

I was walking home from dance class yesterday, and a young woman sitting on the street corner asked me for a slice of pizza.

I was literally across the street before I realized she had asked me for pizza and not money. I’ve given people money before, but I rarely carry cash, which seems to make all of these transactions simpler in a sad way — if someone asks me for something I do not have, I do not have to think about my answer.

But this time I could do something to help. So I turned around, crossed the street again, walked back to the woman, and asked “Did you say you wanted pizza?”

We went into the pizza shop and she talked excitedly about how great this was and I talked excitedly about how I never carry cash but I can do this, and she ended up getting two slices and politely refusing my offer of a soda, and it cost me $6.51 plus a dollar tip.

This is not some story about how amazing I am for buying someone six dollars worth of pizza. I’ll tell you straight out that I walk by a lot of homeless people (or people I assume are homeless), and it feels like there are more people on Seattle’s streets this year than there were last year, which makes me sad and anxious and angry. I’ll also note that I bought pizza for a young white woman, which probably influenced my decision to turn around.

I wondered, as I walked home, about the logistics of equipping homeless people with Square credit card readers. That way people could continue to be helpful even as more of us stop carrying cash regularly. Then I thought about how hard it would be to walk by everybody knowing that I could help and was choosing not to, in a way that I wasn’t necessarily choosing when I said “I don’t have cash.”

Then I thought about maybe creating a system where we could just donate once a month to a big pool, and then the pool would be distributed equally to people living in Seattle with demonstrated need. (I know the logistics would be difficult. I’m imagining a bank volunteering to set up accounts for everybody on the demonstrated need list, regardless of permanent address, and then a bunch of direct deposits.) Then you could give to everybody, and also give within your means.

Then I thought I could just donate to a charity or shelter, because those are much the same thing. Not exactly the same thing — a bed in a shelter is not equivalent to money in a bank account — but it’s still a way of reaching a group of people instead of having to choose just one person to help.

And then I got stuck on the problem of The Briefcase; specifically, how much money can I give away right now and still meet my own needs? It’s not going to be a lot, because all of my own bills come due at the end of the month and I still need some money left over to carry me until my next big freelance check comes in on June 15. Plus I need to buy myself new glasses at some point, and maybe move into a new apartment.

Right now, with the money in my bank account (not counting the taxes/debt/savings subaccounts), I’ll have $35.57 left over after paying my rent and bills. I should get one more check before the month ends, which will solve the problem of having only $35.57 left in my checking account, but it does mean that I can’t end this post with “and then I made a $100 donation to Mary’s Place” even though I really want to.

I was able to give one person two slices of pizza. And I’ve put Mary’s Place on the to-do list for next month. It’s not enough. But in that moment, we were both so excited.

This story is part of our food month series.

Photo credit: The Pizza Review

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