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I was at Trader Joe’s in Berkeley one morning. There was a woman, with two small children, standing near the parking garage, holding a sign, asking for help.

I walked over and asked what I could do for her, if I could buy her some groceries.

“Yes, thank you!”

I asked what she needed.

“Anything. You know. Perhaps some vegetables. Or even just a gift card.”

I ran through the store, grabbed some assorted vegetables, and also some non-perishable food items, some fun things for the kids which I figured they didn’t get enough of, a gift card, and a bouquet of flowers.

When I came back out with two FULL bags of groceries, I saw a look I will never forget — a weird combination of immense gratitude along with… something else. Fear? Worry?

She was genuinely thankful for all of it _ but she had no idea how she was going to get it all home. She took the bus. I would have offered to drive her home, but I didn’t have enough seats in my car.

I was trying to be nice — to be a good person and a good Christian. Moreover, I was trying to “go the extra mile.” I deliberately bought a few things I thought she wouldn’t buy for herself because I feel like people deserve a little something extra, something special.

But what I actually did was burden her. However helpful the groceries were, they were also a huge burden. And the burden was caused because I was trying to do something that felt good to me to do, rather than taking any time to find out what her actual needs are.

If the help required a burden, that would be one thing — sometimes life is like that. But this was just stupid. She would have been much better off if I had taken whatever I was going to spend on her and gotten her a TJ’s giftcard (which she did specifically ask for).

But I don’t ride the bus. I don’t have the problems she has. It didn’t even occur to me that two heavy bags of groceries would be anything other than a fantastic gift.

She was extremely gracious. I gave her the receipt.