Sunday, August 13, 2006

Repaying Charity with Complaining.

There is a woman who lives in our apartment building about whom I have decided to post. She seems to tell her story to anyone who will listen, so I do not think I am betraying any information to tell some of her background first. She is about 40 with two children, a boy about 12 and a girl about 9. Her husband is in prison and will be for about the next 9 or 10 years. Her mother is older and not well and lives with her sister, who struggles to provide for her 3 children, each from a different father. This woman who lives in our building, I'll refer to her as C, has explained to me that she knew nothing about her husband's previous life/crimes, etc. until after they were married and she struggles to provide for her two children by herself.

James and I have been sympathetic and tried to be charitable towards her. Over a year ago we began letting her use our phone since she couldn't afford one. When she lost her car, we began occassionally giving her rides. She comes by asking for eggs, milk, tomato paste, celery, hotdogs, etc. In fairness, she has given us two of her daughter's infant dresses, one new dress for Cecilia from Target, a package of diapers and a tin of formula (even though Cecilia has never nor will ever get formula). We have never asked her for anything nor expect anything but who could ask for anything from someone who has made it very clear they are in need of help?

This summer she lost her job at UPS. Personally I think her incapability to ever be punctual in my experience could have played into that but she says it was because she had to keep taking off work to take her son to some sort of therapy. She takes him to therapy or something of that sort in order to get his record expunged because he was caught taking a knife to school. She claims he got picked on and brought it simply, and stupidly, to defend himself.

Since she lost her job she has repeatedly come to us asking for food products and rides to places and never fails to retell her situation. I've heard more than once that they have nothing to eat except pancakes (not the simply add water kind I might add but the kind that requires eggs, milk and oil), she can't pay her rent or her phone bill, she needs to buy groceries for her mother, she's so tired of struggling, it's so difficult to raise two kids by herself, etc. Now, I have no doubt it is not easy to raise two children on her own, esp. since she cannot get child support as her husband is in prison. In this regard she has my utmost sympathy and it is for this reason James and I have repeatedly helped her. However, it has gotten to the point where she is repaying our charity by complaining nonstop about her own situation. Yesterday when I drove her and her two children to three different destinations she asked me, "Can you imagine what it is like for me raising two children by myself?" I responded quite honestly that I couldn't, but I have gotten the distinct impression that she is trying to play upon me as a fiddle. She has even told me she had to hide crying from her son after scolding him when he asked her if he could "exercise his skills" (a.k.a. shoplift) at Safeway because he was so angry at not having enough food.

Not three weeks ago when James and I were blessed to sell his old car and she told us they had nothing to eat we gave her $80 so her children could eat (we also gave her about $20 we had on a bus pass so she would use the public transportation to get around). I realize $80 is not much, but there are ways to make it last if you have to. I told her that those Ramen Noodles come in several flavors and were on sale at our nearest grocery store for 10 cents a package. (They are quite good and very filling.) She said she forgot to look for them and was hinting again yesterday for more cash.

There are other inconsistencies and facts that have made us hesitant. Perhaps her son has caused her so much trouble but I must say, even for a 12 year old, he has always been very nice and especially polite whenever I have seen or spoken with him. James and I have come to agreement in instituting a "NO CASH" policy when it comes to her or her children but if there is something in particular in terms of a grocery or something, we will try to help. However I have also said I am much more weary now about letting her into our apartment. She has her own phone again and I'm becoming more weary of allowing anyone in her family near Cecilia or in our apartment.

Perhaps this post is more of a vent than a reflection but I do feel as though our charity and neighborly kindness is being repaid with complaining and almost a nagging of further donation. A dear priest friend of mine told me several years ago that it was a charity to not complain to others. Now of course complaining should not be confused with answering truthfully to personal questions of close friends or family, but if an acqaintance asks me how I am doing I am not about rant about every difficulty or complaint or problem I have to them. There is probably not much they can do about them, only makes them a dumping sight for my difficulties and probably makes me less than a joy to be around. As Christians it is our Christian duty to bring Christ's love to others and whining or complaining to someone who is not at fault and can do little to help is not very Christian. Personally, when it comes to such people, I find it harder to have sympathy to self-proclaimed martyrs. True martyrs let their lives witness for them. They do not need to tell everyone how unfair their life is. And it is in watching such people do their best without complaining that they become admirable and an inspiration to everyone else.


  1. It's of my personal opinion that you are being played with. But that's of my limited knowledge of the situation.

  2. Well, yesterday she asked for 1 egg, 1 cup of milk, celery and hotdogs (I gave her an 8 pack) because she was so hungry her stomach hurt and all she had to make the kids was pancakes and tuna salad. Today she returned the celery saying they didn't make the tuna salad, repaid me the egg, and said that she was "so full" from the pancakes and a tv program came on that she fell asleep and burned 6 of the hotdogs.

    Two questions:
    1. Why tell someone who was generous in giving you hotdogs that, despite your supposed desperate situation, you burned 2/3 of them?
    2. If she only made pancakes for her and her two children and I only gave her 1 egg and 1 cup of milk, how could she be "so full" of pancakes?

    Something quite simply doesn't add up.

    Not to mention, who the hell hasn't money for rent, the phone bill or food, but still keeps the cable?

    I can't decide if she is just a free-loading liar or the worst money manager on earth.