Helping someone vs being taken advantage of

I was at subway yesterday getting a sandwich during my lunch break, and a younger gentleman around my age (27) came in, walked up to me, and asked me to buy him a sandwich because he was “very hungry”.

Normally, when someone asks for food or drink, I’ll buy it for them because I want to help them. But this person came in and did not appear to be in any need. He was young, in good shape, appeared very healthy, and was well dressed in Tommy Hilfiger clothing (I noticed the emblem on his bag/man-purse/satchel thing). I asked him where he got the bag, and he said his mom bought it for him, at which point our conversation ended because the employees asked him to leave. Once he left, one of the employees said that he has come in a couple of times doing the same thing. Afterwards, I felt a little guilty that I didn’t buy him anything.

What are your thoughts on things like this?

This is a difficult situation.

Part of me wants to say that by being a good steward of money, you need to be more discerning.

Another part of me wants to say help everyone you can and if they are taking advantage of you, that’s on them, because really, what’s 3-5$ for a sandwich in the grand scheme of things? We are called to love people, not judge them, whether they wear Tommy Hilfiger or not.

P.S. That’s just my 2cents. I don’t think you should feel guilty for not helping this man.

I think Stephen is right on both points. Be a good steward and also be willing to help even if sometimes you get taken advantage of. You may need to strike a balance, but if you err a little on the same of being taken advantage of, that’s better than refusing help when it’s really needed.
Don’t feel guilty if you think you made the wrong decision; just try to do better next time.

I live in a bad neighborhood in a poor city, and over the years I’ve come to the decision that I will not make the call on whether someone is “deserving.” In your case it seems like the employees knew very well that the guy was just a mooch. But I learned something important about this recently, so I’ll tell you the story.

This past Christmas Eve, my husband and I tried to help a man who came into the church in the town we were visiting, claiming to be homeless. As soon as we left the church to drive with him to a gas station and put some gas in his car, his story started changing. In the end we weren’t able to help him, because as a general rule we only give practical help (like fill up a car), and he made it clear that wasn’t the kind of “help” he wanted. However, due to some confusion, he did manage to get some money out of us (which we know better than to do). My husband and I left feeling upset and – though I can’t speak for husband – I felt ashamed and dirty for allowing myself to be used that way. And it was Christmas Eve, for heaven’s sake.

I woke up in the middle of the night, as I often do when I’m that upset. And as I usually do when I wake up in the middle of the night, I prayed; this time I asked Jesus to show me how he wanted me to think of this. I got two things which would be relevant here:

  1. Whatever I do to the least of His people, that I do to Him. “The least” does not mean “the ‘deserving’ poor.” The designation includes the liars, the drunkards, the con-men, the addicts, the thieves, the murderers, etc. [Mooches, too!] Christ looks upon the things we do for love of Him with favor, no matter what the state or intentions of the recipient.

  2. Jesus, the person of the Son of the infinite God, took on the limits of human flesh to save us. While He dwelt with us, He was scorned, mocked, betrayed, scourged (not just whipped, but scourged), nailed to a cross, and killed. And THEN – and for millenia, now – He has come back to us again and again and again, hidden in bread: at the bidding of any priest, and at the mercy of absolutely anyone who should lay hands on Him. God Himself is often abused and taken advantage of in this form; therefore, there is no shame in being abused or taken advantage of. When others take advantage of our generosity and love, we are in the best imaginable company.

I find that the first time I find myself in an unexpected situation, I usually respond in a way I wish I hadn’t. For example, the first time someone came to our door begging, I literally *hid *behind my (very tall) husband, because I just didn’t know what to do! I worked it over in my head afterward, decided what I would have liked to do, and the next time it happened I had the script already in my head and ready to go. Which is to say that I don’t blame you at all for your response, oh you brave one who did not run and hide. :slight_smile: That said, it would not have been wrong to buy him the sandwich. And even if he was trying to take advantage of you… well… see the above.

Eh, maybe I will tell you the other thing Jesus showed me that night. In the midst of the confusion I committed a relatively minor sin, obviously venial, but about which I felt absolutely terrible. He reminded me that I could take it to confession, He would forgive me, and He would teach me to do better. So if you feel that you failed in mercy or charity or love of neighbor or whatever, just take it to confession. He will forgive you and teach you to do better, and next time something similar happens, you’ll be starting from a better place.

I’ve prayed for you. I wish you the best in working out your take on this kind of situation.

Due to a change in my personal situation, I do not help the poor as often as I used to. However, they were usually at or near the bad parts of town. I helped them as often as I could. Just pray to God to guide you.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been taken advantage of, but if so, it would not be my fault.


If I have it to give, I do. I imagine that it must be humbling to ask a complete stranger for something. I remember a time when I was a teenager, and I drove into the city (approximately 45 mins from my hometown, in another state). I pumped my gas and realized that I didn’t have any money to pay. I couldn’t call home, because I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be and against my parents wishes. The owner threaten to call the cops on me, when a stranger paid for my gas and bought me something to eat. I offered to come back and repay him; however, he refused. He only wanted me to make it home safely and to tell my parents what I had done. I learned two lessons that day: 1) what is done in the dark, comes to the light & 2) everyone needs help sometimes.

This is how I felt too. And my issue wasn’t so much with buying him a sandwich; it was more that I didn’t want to support someone in (possibly) manipulative behavior.

Thanks to you and Stephen…it does make me feel better.

Thank you for this reply and for your prayers.

I used to catch the train to work and there was this very strange girl. She was always asking me for money for her bus fare and lunch which I gave a couple of times. The problem was all the strange stories she would tell. she claimed she got up at to walk 2 hours to the station but also said she had a car, she would tell very sad stories like that her mother had just died of a heart attack or her dad had died in Iraq and she had to pick up his ashes but then I would hear her tell another commuter that she had been to her dads house at the weekend. These sad stories typically came right before a request for money. She gave me a really bad feeling and I used to dread her following me home.

People who do these things have complex issues. It’s good to be compassionate but trust your instincts and consider your own safety. I stopped giving this person money, I would talk about how I save money by making myself lunch and keep a budget. To be honest if the sandwich shop are on to this guy then he probably is a con artist so don’t feel bad for not buying him free food.

My take is this:

If someone is taking advantage of me, that is between them and God. If I fail to show charity to someone in need, that is between ME and God. If there is a problem, I’d rather it be between them and God than between me and God. I try to err on the side of caution. If it turns out I was taken advantage of, I can thank God for teaching me humility.

Beautiful post.

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