Q: Any suggestions for explaining to a 7-year-old why I don't give change to every panhandler who asks for it? I walk her to school through an urban area and have already deflected her questions about this more times than I care to admit.
A: "I think there are better ways to help people than to give them spare change. For example, I give money to groups that help homeless people." Then do — and have her watch you do it.
Encourage her to go through her toys, books and clothing to see whether there's anything she has outgrown and can donate. If you can up that to volunteering at a shelter, even better.
If she asks more questions — such as the obvious one, "Why?" — you can say that spare change might help solve an immediate problem, but that a good charity will help solve problems longer-term.
Anonymous: When I lived in New York, I got to know the regular panhandlers along my route to work. Instead of giving money, I made sandwiches and veggie strips. If I ran into one of them, I'd give it to them. If not, then I had veggies to snack on myself. I made peanut butter sandwiches, since they lasted a couple of days without affecting taste.
I donate to United Way for the systemic help, but it was hard even as an adult to turn away from a plea for help. This way, I didn't give money, and I was able to feed them a single meal.
Carolyn: Very thoughtful idea, thank you. (Some outreach groups suggest sunflower butter because of allergy concerns.)