By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 19, 2010; B01
The guy behind the meat counter is looking at Reed Sandridge kind of strangely. Giving away $10 every day to a stranger -- an idea Sandridge had soon after he was laid off from his job at a Washington nonprofit group last fall -- isn't as easy as it sounds.
Carlos Canales, a 28-year-old butcher at Eastern Market, is hesitant to take the money. "What do I have to do?" he asks.
No strings, no hook. Sandridge, 36, a businessman-turned-shoe-leather philanthropist, just wants to help. His mom, the daughter of a coal miner whom he remembers most for her kindness, always told him that when you're going through tough times, that's when you most need to give back.
So not long after he was laid off, on the third anniversary of his mom's death, he started his "year of giving," documenting each $10 gift in a small black notebook and then blogging about the people he meets. By Day 94, he had given away almost $1,000, handing out money in blizzards, in rainstorms, on the sunniest of days. He gave $10 to a guy playing the trumpet outside Verizon Center, the president of a brewery, someone dressed up as the Statue of Liberty, a hard-drinking PhD, a man who held up a basketball to block helicopters overhead from eavesdropping on their conversation, the curator of a small museum and a whole lot of homeless people.
Sandridge, who is outgoing and has a ready grin, and, sometimes, a brown scruff of almost-beard, knows $10 is precious little, even to the most down-and-out. It feels significant only when the daily donations are subtracted from his shrinking bank account. He's been using his savings and a few hundred a week in unemployment benefits to pay the mortgage on his home in Dupont Circle. But he hopes he will network his way to a salary again long before he runs out of cash.A learning curve
But the year of giving is not about the money. Sandridge is trying to spread an idea. Doing nice things all the time is addictive, he said.
Besides, he added, "being unemployed, I was starting to go nuts."
He wanders the city looking for strangers who appear as if they might need help or have an interesting story to tell. He has a few rules: He gives only $10, and he doesn't take anything in exchange.
He's getting better at it. The first three times he tried, people refused, suspicious, and walked away. Now, he easily persuades people to take his money -- even Canales, after a few moments, accepts the $10 bill -- and to tell him what they're going to do with the unexpected gift.
Every once in a while, he knows the money really helps someone. It pays for a meal or turns someone's lousy day into one that feels lucky.
On his fifth day, in the middle of a fierce snowstorm, he met Davie McInally, a Scottish man with icicles frozen in his thick beard who was carrying his belongings in a backpack and trying to get to New York to enlist in the military. McInally hoped to serve on active duty and earn his citizenship, and the $10, added to his $14, made a bus ticket possible.
"I am sure there have been quite a few people now that those 10 dollars have really helped, or made their life or even their days a lot better," McInally wrote in an e-mail.
The generosity comes naturally to Sandridge, who grew up in a close family in a small Pennsylvania town.
He studied international business and Spanish at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, worked for a Finnish telecommunications software company, for which he started a subsidiary in Brazil (sleeping in his office sometimes because he was working so much), returned to the United States to oversee its Americas operations, and then joined the management team of a health nonprofit founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation.
Sandridge tells people that he doesn't care what they do with his money. But that's not exactly true. When someone who is jobless and has alcohol on his breath says he'll buy a drink, Sandridge doesn't regret the gift but hopes the next $10 has a better impact than just another buzz.
His favorites are those (more than 30) who say they'll use the money to help someone else: He likes to see the $10 snowball. A woman went to a homeless shelter the night after she met Sandridge and found someone who could use the gift. A Haitian man who had just learned that his mother had died in the earthquake told Sandridge that he was going to the island to look for other relatives and would put the money toward bringing satellite phones there.Ideas to help others
On his Web site, Sandridge keeps a list of ideas for helping those he has met: Ron, who has experience with heavy machinery, wants day-labor work. Nikki needs help with filing disability claims. Garland, a street drummer, wants gigs. Anthony needs a pair of size 9 sneakers.
Sometimes, someone following the blog, another stranger, will step in to help.
"He forces attention to people who are usually ignored," said his brother Ryan Sandridge. "I hope others maybe slow their life down just a little bit and see that there's more than just the daily grind. I don't know if that's part of his message or not -- but that's one of the things I take out of it. Look around, pay more attention, be more giving."
Canales takes the money, talks to Sandridge some in Spanish and introduces him to his father, Emilio Canales. Carlos tells him that when he was a little boy, he would sleep under the tables behind the meat counter while his father and uncles set up their stands early in the morning. He's not sure what to do with the $10. Maybe the next time someone asks him for food, he will give it to that person.
"I'll pass it along," Canales said.
Sandridge has already started to think about Dec. 16, when the year is over. "It's going to be a letdown," he said.
So he's planning a party for all the people who got his money and all the people who read his blog as he gave it away.
Sometimes people ask him: Why not give all the money away at once?
He didn't want to write a check to an organization -- he wanted something more personal. "But I get their point," Sandridge said. "If I gave $3,650 to one person, I could probably change their life.
"Maybe I'll do that next year!" Then he laughed. "I'll need a good job, first."
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.