Honking horns and drumming rain on the windshield make it feel like just another drive through Seattle traffic. Suddenly, my wife points to a man standing at an intersection. I’ve never seen him before, but I flip on my emergency flashers and turn the wheel hard to the left. As the man steps towards me I wonder, “What’s going to happen this time?”
This routine started last summer when my wife and I moved to downtown Seattle for an internship. It didn’t take long to notice that between penthouse apartments and seafood restaurants there was a large population of homeless people. We wanted to help but didn’t feel comfortable handing money to every person asking for a donation. At the same time, we kept running across these words of King Benjamin in our family scripture study: “Ye will administer your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain” (Mosiah 4:16).
We resolved to prayerfully find a way to help those in need. After pondering the problem, we came up with the idea of “service bags.” We put non-perishable food items—such as crackers, meat jerky, granola bars, or natural fruit snacks—in brown paper lunch bags, which we kept in the car. Whenever we saw someone asking for help, we’d pull over and hand out a service bag.
After two summers of giving out service bags, we’re surprised by what we’ve learned:
• As far as we can tell, most beggars are not con artists or drug addicts who would turn down any donation except cash. Every person we have given a bag of food to has been extremely grateful. We’ve never had anything close to a negative response.
• We worried that pulling over in traffic would irritate other drivers. On the contrary, no one has ever honked or yelled when we stopped to give out a service bag.
• Seeing the plight of the destitute has made us more grateful, even when we are hungry on fast Sunday or think our apartment is small. It also has made us more willing to give a generous fast offering.
• Assisting strangers has made us feel more confident in contacting less-active families we home or visit teach. We also feel less nervous about discussing the gospel with nonmembers.
• We can’t help smiling after giving out a service bag.
Serving the needy has also given added meaning to these other verses from King Benjamin: “Are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have?” (Mosiah 4:19). Each of us is dependent upon the Lord for all of our needs and his blessings to us are manifestations of his mercy. King Benjamin continues, “And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy” (Mosiah 4:20).
The man at the intersection looks surprised as he grabs the paper bag. A smile creeps across his face. “God bless,” he says softly, revealing a row of misshapen teeth. As we pull away we watch in the rearview mirror as he opens the granola bar, and we remember that we too must daily “trust in the mercy of the Lord” (Psalms 52:8), He who “hath filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53).