Giving at the Meter

(Preston Keres - The Washington Post)
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Because we knew you would wonder, and because the enormous Page Three budget funds our research, we put a penny in a parking meter to see what would happen. Answer: The meter silently swallowed it. Note to authorities: We promise never to do it again and urge our readers not to, either.

Giving at the Meter

The other day, I stopped in the crowded and frenetic 7-Eleven store on Rhode Island Avenue in the Shaw community. The store is a study in diversity. Every nation seems to be represented behind the counter. The patrons are downtown office workers heading to their desks from plush neighborhoods in Northwest, Latino construction workers grabbing a coffee and doughnut, homeless men and women, and people like me buying an early morning Post.

The store attracts more than its fair share of beggars, mostly homeless women. Exiting the store, I always offer change to the woman who seems to be the most coherent. "There but by the grace of . . .," I always remind myself. I figure that if I keep donating to those who need the change more than myself, perhaps I will continue to be blessed with a good job. And maybe I'll help someone along the way.

One morning, I donated my change to a woman who had her hands and pockets full of pennies. As she took my money, she segregated the pennies.

"I collect everyone's pennies, and when I get too many to handle, I put them into parking meters," she said, pointing north up Seventh Street. "This is the way I pay my taxes to the city, it's the way I give back to the city that supports me while I'm homeless."

Stunned by her generosity, I didn't know what to say but I soon squeezed out a "Well, that's a nice thing to do." I watched her pass in front of my car and walk up Seventh Street counting her pennies. I didn't like what I did next, but I was dying of curiosity. I followed her with my car, discreetly. When she got to the high-rise apartments on Seventh before S Street, I watched her enter what seemed like hundreds of pennies into the parking meters. I'm still stunned. But I am also renewed. I continue to give to the homeless.

-- Bernard Demczuk, Washington

Paying it Forward

It was an unlucky day. I went to the bank, went to a shoe store, went back to work, left work to pick up dinner, and discovered that $70 was missing from my wallet. It turned out a "maintenance man" who had been in our office in the afternoon was not legitimate. My money had been stolen.

Tuesday, June 10, was a lucky day. I drove home from work, picked up the mail, opened an envelope that didn't look like a bill, and discovered $70 in cash, along with a sheet of paper on which was typed the phrase, "Practice random acts of kindness."

The cool part is this: When I pondered who might have done such a thing, the list of people I came up with was substantial. That feeling was almost as good as the one that comes with knowing that there still are people who practice random acts of kindness, and that someone cares enough to take the time to do one for me. Faith in humanity, score! And thank you, whoever you are, for an act that won't be forgotten, and will be paid forward.

-- Lori Klopp, Fredericksburg

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