Claim: Shoppers pitch in to buy food for a woman who was embarrassed over using a welfare card at a grocery store.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, July 2008]
‘Some people!’ snorted a man standing behind me in the long line at the grocery store.
‘You would think the manager would pay attention and open another line,’ said a woman.
I looked to the front of the line to see what the hold up was and saw a well-dressed, young woman trying to get the machine to accept her credit card. No matter how many times she swiped it, the machine kept rejecting it.
‘It’s one of them welfare card things. Damn people need to get a job like everyone else,’ said the man standing behind me.
The young woman turned around to see who had made the comment.
‘It was me,’ he said, pointing to himself.
The young lady’s face began to change expression. Almost in tears, she dropped the welfare card onto the counter and quickly walked out of the store. Everyone in the checkout line watched as she began running to her car. Never looking back, she got in and drove away.
After developing cancer in 1977 and having had to use food stamps, I had learned never to judge anyone without knowing the circumstances of their life. This turned out to be the case today.
Several minutes later a young man walked into the store. He went up to the cashier and asked if she had seen the woman. After describing her, the cashier told him that she had run out of the store, got into her car, and drove away.
‘Why would she do that?’ asked the man. Everyone in the line looked around at the fellow who had made the statement.
‘I made a stupid comment about the welfare card she was using. Something I shouldn’t have said. I’m sorry,’ said the man.
‘Well, that’s bad, real bad, in fact. Her brother was killed in Afghanistan two years ago. He had three young children and she has taken on that responsibility. She’s twenty years old, single, and now has three children to support,’ he said in a very firm voice.
‘I’m really truly sorry. I didn’t know,’ he replied, shaking both his hands about.
The young man asked, ‘Are these paid for?’ pointing to the shopping cart full of groceries.
‘It wouldn’t take her card,’ the clerk told him.
‘Do you know where she lives?’ asked the man who had made the comment.
‘Yes, she goes to our church.’
‘Excuse me,’ he said as he made his way to the front of the line. He pulled out his wallet, took out his credit card and told the cashier, ‘Please use my card. PLEASE!’ The clerk took his credit card and began to ring up the young woman’s groceries.
‘Hold on,’ said the gentleman. He walked back to his shopping cart and began loading his own groceries onto the belt to be included. ‘Come on people. We got three kids to help raise!’ he told everyone in line.
Everyone began to place their groceries onto the fast moving belt. A few customers began bagging the food and placing it into separate carts. ‘Go back and get two big turkeys,’ yelled a heavyset woman, as she looked at the man.
‘NO,’ yelled the man. Everyone stopped dead in their tracks. The entire store became quiet for several seconds. ‘Four turkeys,’ yelled the man. Everyone began laughing and went back to work.
When all was said and done, the man paid a total of $1,646.57 for the groceries. He then walked over to the side, pulled out his check book, and began writing a check using the bags of dog food piled near the front of the store for a writing surface. He turned around and handed the check to the young man. ‘She will need a freezer and a few other things as well,’ he told the man.
The young man looked at the check and said, ‘This is really very generous of you.’
‘No,’ said the man. ‘Her brother was the generous one.’
Everyone in the store had been observing the odd commotion and began to clap. And I drove home that day feeling very American.
Origins: We first encountered this story (which has since come to us under such headings as “Never Judge,” “Never Judge Anyone,” “Think Before We Speak,” and “And We Have Problems?”) about grocery shoppers pitching in to buy food for a woman who was embarrassed over using a welfare card at a grocery store in May 2008. Its true title is “The Generous One,” and it was penned by Roger Dean Kiser in 2007 and appeared in his 2008 self-published collection of short stories, Helping Our Fellowman.
Confirming or debunking the tale is difficult given that we’ve been unable to contact its author, and the text itself lacks any contextual clues: The account does not identify anyone by name, nor provide any details about time and place. The most that can be gleaned from the text in that regard is that the described incident purportedly took place in an unnamed grocery store in an unknown town sometime within the last several years.
A few aspects of the story indicate that it is the product of creative writing and not an account of a real-life incident, though. First, the embarrassed woman’s situation comes to light only because a few minutes after she flees
the establishment, a young man who knows not only the details of her life’s circumstances but also where she lives (a detail key to the plot, if the groceries and a generous check are to be delivered to her) fortuitously comes bursting into the store looking for her, for no explained reason.
Second, the shoppers described in this tale are a far more trusting lot than any we’ve encountered in real life. A stranger bursts into a store and tells them a sad story about a woman who is also a stranger to them (and isn’t even present to verify anything he says), whereupon they all unquestioningly participate in an effort to purchase a small fortune in groceries (and a freezer to boot) for the unknown woman they’d only briefly laid eyes upon a few minutes earlier. Not to sound too cynical, but in similar circumstances 99% of the people we know would suspect they were witnessing someone trying to run a scam.
Finally, the story leaves unexplained how the misjudged young woman ended up having custody of her deceased brother’s three children. Single parents in the
How likely is it that a soldier with three young children would make arrangements to entrust their care to his 18-year-old sister should something happen to him? (The story describes the embarrassed woman as being
Given the lack of checkable details plus some underlying questions about the tale’s plot, we’ve marked this story as “legend” but suspect it to be wholly a work of fiction. (It was published in a book of “short stories,” after all, not a book of “heartwarming true-life incidents.”) Which is not to say the piece doesn’t serve to make a valid point about the folly of making snap judgments about people, or that those who take inspiration from the tale are wrong to do so. The ability of a story to cause people to examine their own hearts and possibly change behaviors on the basis of what they find isn’t dependent on the story’s being a faithful account of an actual incident; all that matters is that it move the person towards a more charitable outlook.
Barbara “mass transit” Mikkelson
Last updated: 13 April 2015
Kiser, Roger Dean. Helping Our Fellowman. 2008 (pp. 96-99).