Tuesday, September 30, 2014 • 11:01
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How to earn my donation


July 09, 2014
This column isn't meant to demean Jack in the Box tacos, but during a recent trip to Downtown San Diego three panhandlers turned down my offer of a coupon for two free tacos with any purchase.

I'm willing to pay more for dining at an individually-owned restaurant with full service, but fast food has its advantages in the case of a limited meal break or when I'm not familiar with the restaurants in the area and opt for the security of national chain standards. Jack in the Box has advantages over other fast-food restaurants, both in terms of location and in terms of specials. The company is headquartered in San Diego, so in many areas the expediency factor merits patronizing that restaurant. The receipts of other fast-food restaurants have offers which require Internet access; the Jack in the Box receipt, which offers two free tacos with any purchase after calling the customer feedback number, provides for the option of using a phone to exercise that redemption.

Sometimes I turn the receipt into a coupon for two free tacos with my next purchase. Occasionally I don't call the customer feedback number in time and the receipt becomes scratch paper. And if the opportunity arises, I give the valid coupon to someone who needs the free food more than I do.

If a panhandler accepts the coupon, he gets the free tacos and I save the change I might have given him. When I'm asked for a handout I must make a split-second decision whether the beggar is worthy of that donation. A fast-food coupon for a free item with any purchase or for an upgrade with a specific purchase gives that person a heftier meal if someone else is able to spring for the initial food cost. If the panhandler takes the coupon, it likely will go for food and I have no qualms about giving him or her something I could have used myself.

The three panhandlers who rejected my Jack in the Box coupons in lieu of a cash donation thus showed their unworthiness of any money I had to give them. The second one had a point; he noted that he needed money for the initial purchase. But if I gave him change he still wouldn't have had the money for the first food item. Had he supplied his own money for the initial food he could have used the coupon for the extra tacos, and had someone else been willing to spring for the initial food cost he also could have leveraged that with my coupon.

In case you're reading this in Oregon or Montana, California has a sales tax on restaurant food and the dollar menu items actually cost $1.08. I've been in restaurants where someone with one dollar didn't realize that the sales tax was additional and asked me for what was truly change. One young woman asked me for exactly eight cents; I gave her a dime instead. Those who neglect sales tax in the total purchase cost provided most of the money themselves and are spending my share on food, so they'll get that dime if I have it. The panhandler, who recognized that he needed money in the first place for the purchase, which would trigger the free tacos, wouldn't have been able to buy that food even if I had given him a $1 bill.

I wouldn't have minded using the coupon myself, but eventually it did end up with someone needier than me. That morning two men were going through trash bins looking for recyclable containers. One woman who parked by one of those bins gave the men containers from her car. I offered them the coupon, and they happily accepted.

No, this column isn't about demeaning Jack in the Box tacos. It's about who really is worthy. The men collecting recyclables were trying to earn their money, and they were the ones who were willing to take my gift to make their initial funding even more valuable.

I almost made a cash donation that day. If someone is playing a musical instrument and I have change, some of that money goes in his or her instrument case. That person earned their donation through his or her musical service. Unfortunately the business mantra "location, location, location" kept me from giving some money to the musician on the other side of the building; hopefully that side had better pedestrian traffic to reward him.

My willingness to help the needy does not extend to the lazy. Those who are willing to do things themselves are worthy of my enhancements. Those who want everything done for them need a change in attitude, not change from my pocket.

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Karen Bates