Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Panhandling should be confined to the streets

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It appears to be an innocuous question in an innocent situation.

"Would you like to donate a dollar to the (insert body organ/disease here) fund?"

Winnipeg shoppers are familiar with this situation. You are reaching for your wallet at a checkout and the cashier asks you for a donation to some cause which is always completely supportable and most worthwhile.

And it's "only a dollar."

So you say "Yes" or "Sure" or you nod your head, grunt some kind of affirmative, hand over your buck and go on your merry, albeit loonie-less way.

But when you can't walk a block without three of four panhandlers hitting you up for a handout on the sidewalks, as we do in Osborne Village, should you face the same thing when you try to buy something at a local business?

Look, I am not cheap and I support certain charities in my own way and in my own time. Like most people, this is a personal decision and the true spirit of altruism is to maintain anonymity when you do the right thing.

But Canadians are known worldwide for being overly nice and polite. People bump into us and we say "Sorry!" And when a Canuck is asked publicly if he or she can spare a buck for something that sounds worthwhile, it is incredibly difficult for most of us to "just say no."

We would rather die than look cheap to other people in the checkout line and then be awash with guilt feelings on the way home.

The checkout staff at Safeway or Manitoba Liquor Control Commission outlets are very diplomatic, but their request can be heard by anybody close by.

What should be a private choice becomes a public decision.

"Charity at the checkout" started in 2000 when the Alzheimer's Society asked the MLCC if they could start a "donate a dollar" program. The effort has evolved into a twice yearly, two-week campaign which has all sorts of charities lined up to apply for one week of wealth (two lucky winners are decided by draws, which certainly fits with the MLCC's amalgamation with Manitoba Lotteries).

Last year, liquor outlets in Manitoba collected $28,784.47 for the St. Amant Centre and $41,936.46 for Helping Hands for Manitobans for Breast Cancer. The first drive this year helped the Manitoba Chapter for the Hard of Hearing Association with $30,623.26 (lots of folks exceed the loonie liability). Certainly noble causes and most of us would slide them each a buck through the mail anytime.

"There's no pressure," says Susan Harrison, spokesperson for MLCC. Customer satisfaction surveys say 90 per cent of MLCC customers support the program. (Who could possibly be against helping breast cancer patients?)

There is no doubt the funds raised do a world of good and there are a lot of charities hoping Sobeys, which bought Safeway, will keep up the former company's corporate goodwill.

Safeway claims to have provided more than $50 million towards breast cancer research and the Special Olympics, and $10 million for Muscular Dystrophy.

Safeway also says 100 per cent of the funds raised are passed on, so there is no "administration fee."

But who really knows how many customers are walking away muttering their dissatisfaction with checkout charities underneath their breath (which is about the most extreme protest a Canadian can muster).

One Canadian shopper has threatened to sue Safeway for "defamation of character" for each time she must decline their cashier's request publicly.

I know, I know, I sound like a crusty, cheap old curmudgeon but I should also be allowed to keep my choices for charity personal at every turn. Besides, I go into a business to buy products, not to be solicited.

Is it too much to ask that the panhandling be confined to the street where it belongs and where we expect it?


Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer who lives in Osborne Village, where even the businesses panhandle.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 21, 2013 A9

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