Some years ago, after a long night of drinking and dancing, some friends and I went to a local (then open 24 hours) landmark restaurant, Nick Tahou's, and each ordered their famous Garbage Plate. When we were done I had eaten maybe a third of mine ( I was already full with beer) and, as this was still in the days when you could smoke in restaurants in New York, we lit up (yes, yes, I know... I quit a long time ago) and all began knocking the ash onto my partially finished meal because there was no ashtray on our table.
About twenty minutes later, we were still talking, smoking and ashing all over the same plate when a homeless man came up to the table. Thinking back, he must have been in his 40s, was missing several teeth and must have been wearing at least six layers of clothes. I think he had been sitting across the aisle from us most of the time we were there, nursing a coffee, but none of us had really noticed him.
"Excuse me," he said, holding out an ashtray and pointing down at my plate, "can I trade you for that?"
We looked at each other, and I slid the now grey, ashy plate across the table to him, as he set down the actual ashtray with a breathless, "thanks!"
He then sat back down across the aisle, dumped ketchup and hot sauce on the whole pile, and began to eat.
"Wait", we said, "there are cigarette ashes and butts all over that!"
"I know," he replied, between bites, "that just fills you up more."
I have never felt so much like a fool as I did right then.
Poverty is not just about countries devastated with famine or choked by war. It is about your city, town and neighborhood. It is about the people that desperately look for help at churches and community centers; it is about children on the school lunch programs who lack adequate medical care.
You don't have to go far, so here are 88 simple ways to fight poverty.