Last Friday I was loading purchases into my trunk at Target when a woman with a stroller and two young children approached me. “We’ve been staying at homeless shelters the last few days,” she said sweetly, “and I’m trying to sell this jewelry I’ve made to earn some money.” She held out a small box full of earrings and bracelets strung through imperfectly cut cardstock paper.
Almost subconsciously, I started sizing up the situation: she had a school age child, a preschooler, and an infant. They all looked healthy and she was dressed simply, devoid of makeup, and seemed sincere. I started saying, “Well, I really have enough jewelry…” even as I was reaching into my purse for my wallet. Am I the only person who reflexively wonders whether I’m being scammed even when my intuition tells me that no mother would be wandering a parking lot with her three kids if she could possibly help it?
I pulled out the cash I had – a five dollar bill, and lucky at that since I never have cash – and as I handed it over, her school age daughter exclaimed, “That’s enough for some jewelry! Take some earrings!” and the mom nodded her head. The jewelry really was pretty, with little polished stones dangling from ear wires. It could have cost $15 or more in a department store. I took my earrings, she thanked me, and as I got in the car I knew this would haunt me if I didn’t give her some sort of information that might help her.
Oasis, a counseling center downtown, came to mind and I jumped out of the car to tell her the name. She made a note and we parted, with me feelling no better but not knowing what else to do. It wasn’t as if she had wanted something for nothing; in fact, her jewelry was a bargain. And what would my five dollars do for her? Nothing!
Two days later I was serving my plate from a pizza buffet on Hwy 280 when I heard a loud thud. Looking toward the door, I saw a girl in her mid-20′s rising up from the sidewalk as a guy then grabbed her arms and pinned them behind back. As the manager shouted, “Call 911!” to the staff, at least a dozen construction workers and lawncare guys rose up to her rescue (this guy picked the wrong place to be bullying a girl) and the fellow released her quickly and left in his car.
I had to know something was going to be done about this, so I watched from my table as person after person came up to the tearful girl to ask whether she was okay, what could they do, etc. She was eating with an older woman (mother? grandmother?) and she responded to inquiries by shaking her head, motioning that she was fine, and I wondered where was the outrage? Surely she wasn’t going to let this go. Was grandma going to allow this?
A policeman arrived and, to my relief, she went outside and appeared to describe whatever had happened. After taking notes and further discussion, he left, and it was my turn to leave (who could choke down anything anyway?). I also stopped by her table and found myself once again describing the counseling services available through Oasis, trying to strike a balance between concerned bystander and meddling stranger. She thanked me quietly and I left wondering if there was such a thing as “meddling” when someone’s safety was in question.
This girl was so young, why was she even around such a loser of a guy? If a man would behave like that in public, what would he do in private, without the outrage of an upset crowd or law enforcement? (Note the girl didn’t call the police; someone at the restaurant did). And isn’t that so often the story of women in abusive relationships, regardless of socioeconomic level (Rhiana and Chris Brown)?
So it is that I’ve decided not to be caught again without a short list of the resources in Birmingham for women and children in need of assistance. These are on an index card in my purse now, where they may be of more help than my meager cash offering:
Oasis 1900 14th Avenue South, 205-933-0338
YWCA 309 North 23rd Street, 205-322-9922
Pathways 409 N. Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd., 205-322-6854
United Way – easiest of all to remember, dialing 211 takes a caller directly to an operator who determines the most appropriate available counseling and resources
Next time, instead of ruminating about what I shoulda, coulda done for a woman or child needing help, I’m pointing them in the direction of real resources and a referral to a professional.