Thanks to an Oklahoma City nonprofit organization, metro residents now have a way to help panhandlers without having to dip into the money pockets of their wallets or purses.
This new method of providing aid is called the Compassion Card, and it was introduced last month by City Rescue Mission, an OKC nonprofit ministry that focuses on helping homeless people.
Those interested in obtaining Compassion Cards can download them for free from the organization's Web site, www.cityrescue.org, and then print them out from home or work, said Tiffany Webb, the organization's development director. Once they have the cards, people can then hand them out to anyone asking for money or assistance, she said.
The cards have the mission's phone number printed on them, and when a person seeking aid is handed one, he or she can receive help from the mission by calling the number, Webb said. The mission provides food, clothing and shelter for people, in addition to free medical and dental services, among other services.
Although the card was meant partly to help people in need, Webb said it also is aimed at people who want to help but are reluctant to give panhandlers money because of the risk that it may be used for something other than food, clothing or shelter.
"We've all heard those horror stories of, they're just taking your money and getting drunk with it, or they just are doing this because they don't want to have a real job. All those horrible things that you've heard can deter your kindness or your compassionate heart," she said. "And so, our solution to that was kind of eliminating that dilemma "¦ of having to decide for yourself, 'Is this person really in need?'"
The Rev. Tom Jones is the mission's president and CEO, and he came up with the Compassion Card concept.
He said the idea arose from experiences spending 35 years as a pastor.
Jones said he would often see people standing on streets holding signs. When he would stop and offer to buy them food, they would decline, saying they preferred money.
"That just happened over and over and over for so many years," he said. "But I didn't really have anything I could do from a larger perspective to help meet the need. So when I became the president of City Rescue, I just figured that "¦ this would be a perfect opportunity to engage the community in offering them "¦ the answers to what they're asking for, but it not necessarily be in the form of money."
Jones said he thinks the majority of the panhandlers who receive the cards are going to throw them away without calling the mission.
He recalled an encounter he had with a person who travels the country panhandling. That person told him that some panhandlers can receive more than $65,000 a year tax-free by engaging in the practice.
However, "that doesn't mean that there aren't real, needy people in our community," he said.
And he said he thinks the cards could be the key to successfully eliminating panhandling, but not without support.
"The success of it is if the community as a whole embraces it and participates," Jones said. "As long as (panhandlers are) continuing to receive cash, they're going to stay on our street corners. But if our community as a whole is seeking to make sure that if they're hungry they get fed, if they have no place to stay, they can have a place to stay " a warm, safe, healthy place to stay " then these Compassion Cards, I think, are the answer from a community perspective." "Will Holland
photo Tiffany Webb, development director at City Rescue Mission. photo/Mark Hancock