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Archive for the ‘Cigarettes’ Category

Blog post by Sibyl W, a Kindness Investor from Brentwood, Tenn.

I noticed Brian several months ago, standing on a corner selling newspapers; I even bought a paper from him once.  The paper, The Contributor, contains stories and poetry written by homeless or formerly homeless citizens.  I thought he would be a great recipient of the day’s $10.  I stopped and asked Brian what led him to sell the paper.

“I just started doing this in December.  I’d been doing ironwork, but the trade has been dwindling down and the guy I worked for was a small outfit so he was about ready to lose everything.  See that roof over there on that bank; I did that building about 20 years ago.  I’ve been an ironworker for 25 years and I hope I get called back.

“But that’s why I started selling this paper.  It got to where I’m behind, but I’m not going to lose what I’ve got.  But it’s hard; I get out 5-6 days a week, if weather permits.  I’ve got family to take care of.”

I asked Brian if he had a place to live.

“Yeah, I pay rent every week, if I don’t have it one week; I catch him (landlord) up the next week.  He’s really good like that. There’s good people out there and before I started doing this with The Contributor I also gave to everybody.  Even though I’m doing this, if I see other contributors, I give them a dollar or whatever I can spare.  We’re all in the same boat.  There’s like 400 of us.   I drive down here from Nashville because there’s so many people in downtown you can’t get a good spot.

“But doing this I have also received a lot.  One month a guy gave me $200 dollars and the next month he gave me $200 more.  I bought four brand new tires with it; I put it to good use.  He took me to lunch the other day, bought lunch, but I left the tip. I said look I know you want to do this, but I have to do something too. “

Brian waved to someone.  “There goes my mailman.  See, I got regulars out here. “While he’s sitting at the red light, the mailman hollers, “Hey there’s no telling what he’ll tell you.”  But then he laughs and says, “Just kidding, it’s all good.”  I wonder what other drivers were thinking, seeing us standing on a street corner laughing, waving, and having a good time.

Brian explained that, “There’s people like me standing out here trying to make a dollar.  Like when you leave here, I’ll walk up and down this sidewalk as much as I can.  You know if you sit at home you’re not going to make any money. And in reality, it keeps me up and keeps me healthy because once you start sitting idle you can hang it up.

“Basically I’m out here trying to make a living.  And I do love being a pioneer because you ain’t gotta answer to anybody; you just have to think about what the Lord’s got you doing.  I ain’t got anything but a desire to work and help people.”

I saw the truth in that. He made my day.

As for the ten dollars, Brian said, “I’ll either get me a meal or some cigarettes.”

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It was Friday night and I wandered out around my house to look for a recipient.  I don’t recall exactly what time it was, but if I had to guess I would say it was around 10:30pm.  

Molly was very suspicious of my intentions at first, but she gave me a chance. (photo: Reed)

I walked over to Dupont Circle.  I have probably given my $10 away at this location over 50 times.  I was trying to think how I could differentiate this experience from the other 50+ times.  I walked around but just didn’t see anyone that struck me.  I left the circle and started heading northwest on Massachusetts Avenue.  I spotted a PNC bank on my right where a young woman was withdrawing money from the ATM.

I thought to myself.  She obviously needs some money, she’s at the ATM, right?  Also, I thought it would somewhat of a challenge to approach someone using an ATM late at night.   

Keeping about 10 feet between us, I waited until Molly finished putting away her cash and called out to her.  I could tell that she felt a little threatened.  “I’m not interested,” she said as she started to walk away.  I asked her to just hear me out.  Still keeping my distance, I gave her my pitch and tried to win her confidence.  If I were in her shoes, I don’t know if I would have stopped to talk to a stranger who just saw me get money from an ATM machine late at night.  

Molly told me that she just got off work from nearby Sweet Green.  “I drive the Sweet Flow Mobile that goes around town,” she told me with a slight grin.  Although she has only been doing this for nine months, Sweet Green has been in business since about 2007.  I have eaten there.  Salads and yogurt are both pretty good.  

I asked her if I could ask her a few questions to which she responded, “Can I smoke a cigarette?”  It’s a free world I thought, so go ahead.  “I was born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland,” she told me as she put the cigarette to her lips and lit it.  She is in college studying history with a special interest in Jewish studies and the holocaust.  

She told me about a backpacking trip she took across Europe and how she is planning to backpack through Asia next summer.  She even traveled to Morocco with her Quaker High School.   

She has an older brother who lives in London and her father is a highly regarded reporter for the Washington Post.  She shared a story about a time when her father was on the Jon Stewart show and she got to go with him to the studio.  I actually watched one of the clips online and found it pretty interesting.  

We walked around the building where we met and she showed me the Sweet Flow Mobile that she drives around.  Check out her special invitation for Barack Obama.   

I asked her what she was going to do with th $10.  “I’ll probably get a pack of cigarettes,” she told me.  I explained that she would be the sixth person to use the money for cigarettes.  My mother was a smoker for many years and died of heart disease at a fairly young age.  That on top of the fact that I think it is kind of a disgusting habit always makes me cringe a little internally when someone chooses to buy cigarettes with the money.  But that is her prerogative.  She shrugged her shoulders and said that one day she hopes to quit, but not right now.  Molly shared that her parents had actually offered her $500 to quit.  “I said no,” the 20-year-old told me, “Today, there is no amount of money that would make me quit.”  Wow, for anyone who thinks it’s easy to quit smoking, that statement should tell you something.  

Molly said that she would be happy to take the Sweet Green Mobile to the White House for President Obama. (photo: Reed)

Before leaving I asked her where people can find the Sweet Flow Mobile.  “We’re never at the same place two days in a row, but people can check out the schedule online to find us!”  I said goodbye and wished her luck getting President Obama to visit her.

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Today’s blog marks the countdown of the final 100 days of my Year of Giving.  Hard to believe that I have given away $2,650, met 265 incredible people and written 265 blog posts about the amazing journey that I embarked on December 15th of last year.   I wanted to take a moment and just thank every one that has been a part of my year.  From the recipients to the readers to my family and friends to the journalists to those who have sent items for the Lend a Hand project, you all have helped shape the journey.  Thank you.

The Kipona Festival in Harrisburg dates back to 1916. (photo: Reed)

Day 265 takes place on Sunday September 5th in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  My father and I drove over to the Kipona Festival along the sparkling shores of the Susquehanna River.  The festival features a variety of food, children’s theatres, educational activities, arts and crafts, boat races, concerts and fireworks.

Some come to Kipona just for the food. (photo: Reed)

We strolled by hundreds of tents full of arts and crafts, food vendors and families enjoying the festivities.  There were several people who I thought about giving my $10 to.  There was Scott Matyjaszek, a 3-dimensional photographic artist who hand cuts all the photographs and then layers them to create what he calls “photo-reliefs.”  His work was really impressive.  You can check it out at www.artephax.com, however, I doubt you can fully appreciate his work since it is in fact the 3-D element that makes it so unique.  There was also a young guy from Tennessee grilling some chicken that he marinated in oil, lemons and other spices.  And I also thought about giving the money to Patty Hankin from Bethesda, MD who was there displaying some of her beautiful photographs of flowers.

James with the Walnut St. Bridge in the background. (photo: Reed)

But sometimes I feel like I don’t really choose.  The recipients choose me.  This is what happened when 42-year-old James asked me for money as I was shooting some photographs of the Walnut Street Bridge that connects City Island to Harrisburg.

James said he has been homeless for the past three and a half months and sleeps along the bank of the Susquehanna River.  A graduate from Shippensburg University, he told me that he had fallen on tough times after being arrested for various charges including theft and DUI.  On top of that, his girlfriend died unexpectedly.  All of this caused him to lose his job as a funding/benefits coordinator.

“People sometimes don’t believe that a white college educated guy like me could be homeless, but I am,” James told me.  He says that he lives off of panhandling and $150 a month that his brother, a television news producer in Washington, DC, sends him.

James said that he slept on the river bank near where this photo was taken. (photo: Reed)

James seemed nervous and said that needed to go.  “I’m not going to lie to you, I am going to get me a sandwich at Sandwich Man and probably buy a cheap pack of menthol cigarettes.”  He hurried off.

Just then my father, who had walked a few yards away to get out of the sun, introduced me to a gentleman sitting on a stone wall a few steps from where I met James.  He gave me his business card and introduced himself as the chief of police from a neighboring community.  He saw James approaching several individuals.  “I tried to get your attention when he came up to you.  I didn’t want you to get scammed.”  The off duty chief said that he positioned himself right next to me in case anything happened.  That was really nice of him to keep an eye out for me.

People often ask me if I believe everything that people tell me.  Of course not, but I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Although I have faith in humanity, there was something about James and his story that didn’t sit well with me.  He seemed so anxious to get going once he got the $10.  Perhaps he was really hungry.  Or maybe he has some addiction issues and went off to get his fix.  Or maybe he just noticed the police chief paying attention to him and felt uneasy.  Who knows?  It really doesn’t matter for the most part.  I am practicing unconditional giving, so the recipients can do anything they want with the money.  I would like to hope that people are usually honest with me though.

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Just after midnight on Sunday morning I was on my way home when I was approached by two men as I walked through Dupont Circle.  Tyrone approached me and said that his friend wanted to talk to me.  His friend, Josh, approached me and they invited me to join them in threesome!  Oh my God.

I got a bit nervous and kept walking to a more lit area.  The two men followed me there and I tried to change the subject and told them about my project and offered them the $10.  They weren’t interested in the ten spot. I said goodbye and headed home.  Never a dull moment living in Dupont.

Dupont Farmer's Market (photo by Reed)

The next morning I got up early and headed over to the Dupont Farmers Market.  I weaved in and out of the various vendor stalls and looked for someone that caught my eye.  I didn’t find the right person though.  And it was really hot and I was getting impatient.

I left the market and just as I crossed the street I saw David selling the Street Sense newspaper on the corner of Q Street and Connecticut Avenue.

David started working for Street Sense on June 13th (photo by Reed)

Originally from Western Kenya near Lake Victoria, David came to the United States in 1997.  He was working in banking at the time and thought that Delaware would be a good place to live to learn about corporations since most companies are incorporated in the “First State.”  He later moved to DC in 2000.

At first he stayed with a professor friend here in DC while he studied at Strayer University.  He hoped to eventually become a doctor.  “I like medicine a lot.  I even used to volunteer at George Washington Hospital,” David said with a pronounced British accent.  He went on to talk about genetics.  “They are the key to living longer, eliminating disease and improving intelligence.”  In five years he hopes to be a medical researcher.

Like many Street Sense vendors, David is homeless.  However, unlike many of the other homeless that I have met, he chooses to sleep in shelters.  He currently stays at the Mitch Snyder shelter at 2nd and D Streets.  Mitch Snyder was a homeless advocate who was the subject of a 1986 made-for-television movie starring Martin Sheen.  After nine years of homelessness David says that shelters in DC are improving.  “There’s been a lot of changes that started in 2004, like installation of air conditioning, spraying for bugs and improved services.”

It’s been 13 years since he left Kenya.  He said that he misses the food.  “A typical meal back home is broiled or roasted corn.  We put lemon pepper on the corn and eat it with coffee or tea.”

One of six children and the only son, David has lost touch with most of his family.  “The last time I saw my dad was 1985, my mom raised us.”  He said he would like to know what happened to his father: Tom Nyamongo.  “I know that he went to Harvard in the 1980s, but he had some type of government job and his life was quite secretive.”  He hasn’t spoken to his mother in several years.  Although he hasn’t been able to confirm this, a sister of his told him in 2001 that she had passed away.

David has been homeless since 2001. (photo by Reed)

In addition to learning more about his parents, David would like to find a cousin of his that was like a big brother to him.  His name is Ben Bella Jaoko and he is in his mid forties today according to David.  “He moved to Poland in the 1980s to study.  With the internet today maybe somebody can find him,” he said with hope in his voice.

Before saying goodbye, David told me that he was going to use the $10 to buy him a nice meal consisting of some Italian sausages and some bread, a beer and put the rest toward a pack of cigarettes.

Although I met David at Connecticut and Q, he says that he is usually at 17th and K if you would like to stop by and say hello.

UPDATE 10/04/2011: Since my initial encounter with David, the most incredible thing has happened. Someone who was going to a job interview at a company in Poland Googled the hiring manager for the job to learn a little more about him – something we all do today, right? The hiring manager’s name was Ben Bella Jaoko!

Well, would you believe he found my post about his cousin David and at the end of the interview asked Ben if he knew that he had a cousin in the U.S. who was looking for him. Completely shocked, Ben wasted no time contacting me and we connected by phone and I put him and David in contact.

From that moment on Ben worked tirelessly to make arrangements for David to get back to Kenya to be reunited with his family.

This morning as I sat working away at my kitchen table, I got a phone call from Ben. I didn’t immediately recognize the voice but when I heard David’s name mentioned I connected the dots. “I’ve managed to raise enough money to purchase the airfare for David to come back to Kenya,” he told me. He explained to me the rest of the details and asked for my help to take him to the airport and help pay for luggage fees, etc. I am sure there will be some other incidentals that will come up too as he prepares to return to Nairobi. If you would like to help us reunite David with his family you can donate $10 by clicking HERE or the yellow DONATE button on the top right side of this page.

We hope to have everything completed for David to depart by the end of the month. With your help, we can make that happen!

I hung up the phone and sat for a moment in silence in my apartment. All because of a simple blog post that I made back a little over a year ago David has is about to leave the streets of Washington to be reunited with his family. This is what it is all about!

UPDATE 11/15/2011: David will be flying home to Kenya on Tuesday, November 22nd. He has been away for nearly 15 years. Thanks to so many of you who have offered to help support these efforts. I have organized a going away party for David on Monday evening at One Lounge (1606 20th Street, NW – Dupont) in DC from 5:30-8:00pm. Please stop by and meet David before he embarks on this exciting new stage of his life. We will also be accepting donations if you would like to contribute to covering some of the costs associated with getting David back home. I hope to see you next Monday!!

 

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Knox gets his first customer of the day (photo: Reed)

Yesterday was a great day.  I ran into my very first recipient for the first time since we met on December 15, 2009.  I embarked on this journey 259 days ago when I placed $10 in the hands of a man named Knox who was shinning shoes on a bitter cold afternoon on the corner of 21st and P Streets.  I walked by him yesterday and I wasn’t sure if it was him, so I asked.  “Yeah that’s me,” he said.  He remembered meeting me too.  We talked and I got his phone number so that I can invite him to the year-end party.  “I’m gonna be there,” he assured me.  He also offered me a free shoe shine which I politely declined.   It made my day to see Knox again!  Here is an updated picture of him.

Knox, the Year of Giving's first recipient! (photo: Reed)

I am about two weeks behind writing up the blogs…so today’s recipient is from Day 246.  I was in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC when I realized I was close to the restaurant Social.  You might remember I visited this place on Day 84.  It’s a cool place that is hard to categorize.  I called it a restaurant, but it is rather chameleon like.  It is a restaurant, bar, lounge, living room…it is what you are looking for.  I ended up talking to some people sitting outside on their patio.  I offered a woman there the $10 but she refused.  Then a guy at the table suggested that I give the $10 to the next person that walked by.  Well, I was thinking that it might be difficult to get someone to stop and talk to me since it was almost midnight.

About 100 yards away we spotted a guy walking and when he got close I asked him to accept my $10, but he declined.  I sat back down and enjoyed one of the tasty beers they have at Social.  About five minutes later we spotted someone else approaching the patio.  One of the guys at my table said, “Oh my gosh, you may want to skip this guy,” because the man who was walking toward us had fluorescent blue hair, eyebrows and goatee.  When I saw him, I wasn’t discouraged, in fact, I knew that he was the one.

Freakshow isn't so freaky, he's actually a really nice guy (photo: Reed)

Somehow I wasn’t surprised when the 45-year-old Altoona, PA native told me, “They call me Freakshow.  I’m a DJ.”  He’s been mixing high energy music for several years here in DC creating a music genre that he calls “funky junk.”

I had to ask him about his color choice for his hair.  “It’s always changing; from leopard prints to zebra stripes, to an American flag mohawk.” (I’m back to using the word mohawk on my blog!)  He channels his creativity in many other ways too.

Freakshow is a flower designer and a re-creation artist; someone who takes “something that is considered to have outlived its useful purpose and give it one last chance at being worthwhile.”

He told me about one of his artworks that got a considerable amount of attention from his neighbors.  He decided to reuse his downspouts in a new and creative way.  Check out these photos from the Prince of Petworth’s website.

Freakshow's downspout art (photo: Reed)

"Creativity takes courage" -Henri Matisse (photo: Reed)

Like or dislike his creation, it does get a reaction.  It generated 90+ comments on the August 9th Prince of Petworth blog post.  Freakshow himself even chimed in to explain himself.  I personally don’t care much for the result of his new arrangement of the downspouts, but I get what he was doing and what I like even more about it was what he said about how his experiment triggered social interaction within his community.  “I in the past two weeks have had the opportunity to meet more of my neighbors than in the two years I have lived at this residence. I have made friend and foe but I have lived an experience that allowed me to see and grow, to realize how people can be so utterly judgmental of another person’s vision. I never claimed beauty or functionality I only took a moment to look at life from a different perspective and my god it was a journey.”

"It's always changing." Freakshow commenting on his hairstyle (photo: Reed)

By the way, Freakshow told me the whole creation was held in place by three screws and some duct tape.  I may be wrong, but I believe that he has since removed the downspout.  He wrote in the blog post comment that he envisioned replacing it with a brick patio, flower-cart and bench that hopefully won’t offend his neighbors.

So I bet you are wondering what this guy did with my ten bucks right?  More duct tape perhaps?  Nope, he joins previous recipients Matt and Isaac in using my $10 to purchase cigarettes.

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MLK Jr. Avenue, Southeast DC (Photo: Wikipedia)

It was a Monday as I walked along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Anacostia, part of DC’s Southeast quadrant. My neck turning red as the sun’s heavy rays beat down on me. The bricks of many of the houses and buildings along my path no longer hold the rich red color they once did.

Isaac walked by me as he headed toward the Metro which was about five blocks away. Something about him struck me and I doubled back and caught up with him and asked him to accept my $10. He stopped dead in his tracks and looked at me as if I had just spoken to him in a foreign language. I sometimes forget how unusual this year-long commitment is. Sharing that he has heard of my project either in the Washington Post or on the local news, he agrees to be my 182nd recipient.

The 32-year-old was on his way home from a trade school where he is learning the fundamentals of carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. With less than a month left of schooling he still is unsure of what he will do when he finishes.

Our conversation takes us back in time to when Isaac was a high school student at Chamberlain High School in Southeast. As a young adult Isaac got involved in some things he shouldn’t have which culminated with him receiving a three-year sentence at the McKean Federal Correctional Institution for cocaine distribution related charges. Released in February of this year, Isaac is trying to pull his life together. “Things happen in prison you know, but you just mind your own business and try not to get in the middle of nothing,” Isaac says of his time in the Pennsylvania penitentiary. While an inmate, he tried to improve himself by completing his GED and taking computer courses. “I would like to get a job working with medical records or something like that.” He goes on to say that he has been thinking about enrolling in the University of Phoenix to further his education.

My conversation with Isaac covers the whole spectrum of life. He shares with me that he might be a father. There is a DNA test in progress to determine whether he is the father of a soon to be three-year-old girl. I did the math and determined that if he did father the child then it must have been right before he was incarcerated. “I don’t know. The test will tell,” he says.

As the weight of the world settles on his shoulders, Isaac is also faced with finding a job. Areas which he says that he would be interested in working are: food service, home or office cleaning, building maintenance, handyman and inventory restocking.

My heart literally hurt when he told me that he was going to buy cigarettes with my money. I try not to judge people on their decisions of what to do with my $10, but to buy cigarettes is a painful reminder of the heart disease that took my mother’s life. I felt the same way when Matt from Day 10 told me he was going to get some Marlboros. I have been against smoking ever since I can remember, but I have to accept his choice. I hope some day you are able to quit Isaac.

I finished asking questions and took a few photos. I walked with Isaac all the way to the Metro station. I really enjoyed talking with him. He is smart and easy to relate to. As we entered the Metro station I asked him where he was heading. “I’m gonna stop by my mother’s house.” The thundering sound of the Metro train coming into the station erased all other sounds. He shook my hand and disappeared into the crowded Green Line train headed for Branch Avenue.

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It’s Christmas Eve. (Actually, its 1:30am on Christmas Day now, so Merry Christmas.)

I am in Mechanicsburg, PA. 

It is about 15 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

I am at my father’s house with my brother and his fiancée.  We spent the day talking, playing cards, watching Star Wars (it’s been on all day), doing last minute shopping, wrapping gifts, listening to Christmas music, and eating lots of food.  My dad was a real hero today too.  He insisted on getting the grill out tonight to cook the steaks he had bought.  Yes, outside.  He does make some of the best steaks I have ever had, but when the grill has ice sickles on it, that’s a sign that we should use the indoor oven.

Anyway, my brother and I decided to go out and see how the central Pennsylvanians would react to my project.  Frankly, it was not as easy as you would think to give away $10 here.  We went to a pharmacy and approached three people.  All of whom said no to participating in the Year of Giving.  One didn’t even want to talk to me.  Another took the web address and said he would check out the website.  The store manager declined saying that there were others more deserving of the money than he.

So we left and headed across the street to a video rental store.  Since they were open we thought we would try to find someone who was working on Christmas Eve and give them the $10.  We walked in the store and immediately found Matt behind the counter.

A white 27 year old physics grad student at Penn State, Matt is originally from Boston.  He said he plans to concentrate his studies on Newtonian physics and would really be happy if someone would recommend him for the MacArthur Fellowship – aka the Genius Award which is given out each year to 20-40 people in the US of any age and working in any field who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.”  While you are at it, you can recommend me too!  Aside from the recognition, you get a cool $500,000.

Matt said he didn’t have much planned for the end of the year.  As a Buddhist he said he would not be celebrating much except for New Year’s Eve, which he planned to have a few drinks.  St. Patrick’s Day, he said, was really his favorite holiday.

So the big question.  What is he going to do with his $10?  Matt plans to buy some Marlboro Menthol Lights in the short 72mm hard packs.  I had no idea that there were so many options with cigarettes.  Now, I can honestly tell you that this is the first time in my life that I have ever given money to someone to buy cigarettes.  I am vehemently opposed to smoking.  Just a note to those who do smoke this type…check out this review of them on rateitall.com.  I don’t know if the info there is true or not, but there is a claim there that those specific cigarettes have “a ‘salt’ (not like the kind you eat) in them that allows the nicotine to be absorbed by the very sensitive skin in you tongue, cheeks, throat, etc.”  Matt, I have a great suggestion for a New Year’s resolution for you :).  You can do it!  BTW, congrats to my friend Aimee who just celebrated one month without smoking.

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