The Can Collector

This morning I was sitting at my kitchen table feeding Elijah bananas and oatmeal when I saw a red car pull up in front of my next door neighbor’s house.  They weren’t home and, frankly, they don’t get a lot of visitors besides their daughter and since I knew it wasn’t her, I was curious.  So I watched as a woman in her late 30’s in a basketball jersey got out of the car with a grocery bag and walked over to the set of trash cans in front of my neighbor’s house.  She opened the lid and started rummaging around for bottles and cans to put in her bag.

I’m going to be honest here.  My first response was not “Christ-like.” My first response was, “What the heck is she doing in my neighborhood?”  Why doesn’t she go back to the neighborhood that she lives in and rummage through her own trash cans.  I mean, I live in one of the few pockets of Riverside that is actually kept up and nice.  Why do I need to put up with her digging through my trash, as if my trash doesn’t stink.  That was (shamefully) my first response.

I’m going to be honest here, again.  My second response wasn’t much better.  My second response was not “Christ-like” either.  My second response went something like this, “Wait a sec… is she homeless?  Is she a drug addict? (Because everyone knows all homeless people are drug addicts, right?)  Is she getting bottles out of the trash to get money to feed her drug habit?”  And frankly, the thought of drug addicts invading my neighborhood kinda scared me.  Because they couldn’t possibly live here already.  Like I said, we live in a nice area of Riverside.  And drug addicts don’t live in nice areas.

My next thought was better.  I thought, “What if she’s not homeless?  What if she’s just like me?”  What if she has kids at home that didn’t eat pancakes for breakfast, because they didn’t have any pancake mix.  Maybe she lost her job and can’t find a new one.  Maybe she doesn’t want to just sit on the corner holding a sign, but will quietly drive around to different neighborhoods, earning a way to feed her family, or cloth her children.  And then my heart broke for her.

I mean, here I am, signing “all done” to my six month old while she’s going to the next house to get more bottles and cans.  My biggest worry today is that it’s going to be really, really freaking hot and should I try to hold off running the ac before noon?  We’re out of milk, but I can load of my kids in our minivan and drive down to the store to buy some without giving it a second thought.  And suddenly I felt this urgency to help her.

My church sends teams of people all over the world doing missions projects.  Reaching out to the poor and needy, to the orphans, and the neglected and abused.  I sit in my seat and think, “Man I would love to go to Cambodia or Kenya or Thailand or wherever, but I’m just not in a season of life where it’s actually a possibility for me.  I mean, I have three kids at home.  Three little kids who don’t need their mommy on the other side of the world if something happened to them, or me.  I’ll just have to hold off until they’re older.”

But then, this.

This person is literally at my front door.  And what am I going to do?  I’ll tell you.


In my defense, I did run to my wallet and check for cash, but I never carry cash.  I thought I could give her some food, but is that degrading to hand someone a can of chili?  I don’t want to make her feel like a charity case.  Maybe I over thought it.  Maybe I should’ve given her my can of chili.  Maybe I should have just gone out front and said hello.  Maybe I should have asked if I could pray with her.  I don’t know.

Maybe she’ll come back next week.  And maybe I’ll be ready for her.

What would you do?


3 responses

  1. I take issue with the line “I live in one of the few pockets of Riverside that is actually kept up and nice”. Riverside is a big city and having read gas meters in most of it, I would say that the majority of the areas in Riverside are nice and kept up. Sure it’s not all brand new and shiny like some newbie cities, but we have a history and diversity here that those newer cities lack. [End rant]

    That being said, I have a hard time being gracious when someone is on the side of my house (before we even put the trash cans out) rummaging through my garbage. It makes me uncomfortable and is an invasion of my privacy. In fact last week we put the trash cans out and sat down to enjoy the evening on our porch, when a truck pulled up and two women with rubber gloves on hopped out and started going through the trash. They completely ignored us. No, would you mind… or is it all right if we… it was really awkward. So I am glad that you are nearby to take up the mantle on this issue! I think a nice thing to do would be to separate the cans from the rest of the trash so they don’t have to dig through it. Shoot, they won’t even have to get out of the car, they can do a drive by can pick up and be on their way.

    I will be following your mission closely, let me know if you need any chili. xoxo

    PS- I’m glad you plan to blog more, I really enjoy your writing.

    • Jessica you crack me up! You bleed Riverside! But I still stand by what I said, most of Riverside could use some… tidying up. And I think the city agrees with me. I read about the beautifying Riverside efforts every month in our city newsletter. It’s a great city. Lots of diversity. Lots of history. And I enjoyed your rant. 🙂

      I’m not sure I would’ve had the same reaction had the lady actually walked up my driveway to the side of my house. That would be weird. But you have to figure, these people must be in some dire straits to go around digging through people’s trash in broad daylight! That takes cajones! And I have to applaud their effort. They aren’t looking for a hand out, they’re actually working, and doing something I would never do!

  2. First of all, I love the new look of your blog. 2nd of all – I probably would have gone through the same set of thoughts. You know ever since becoming a mom, I’ve gotten even more suspicious of people who are down on their luck. I go into protect mode instead of even thinking helpful thoughts. I think she would rather have cash than chili. Where I live there are a lot of pan handlers and they scare me because most of them look like they’re ready to shank me for my ATM card. Fine line between protection and paranoia though.

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