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Random Acts of Paying It Forward: Give a Stranger 10 Bucks Day
How would you manage your finance differently if you lost your source of income? For millions of Americans and countless others around the world, this is not a hypothetical question. You might cut back on going to the movies. You might cook meals in bulk to stretch over multiple meals. You might look for cheaper housing. Many people will be forced to cut back on their charitable giving. According to Center on Wealth and Philanthropy's Individual Giving Model (IGM), individual charitable giving in 2009 was down by 5%.

Reed Sandridge's mother passed away in late 2006, and he lost his job shortly after. Many people would be tempted to withdraw from the world and look inward in self-pity. Instead, he felt like the best way to honor his mother's generous spirit was to embark on 365 days of giving $10 away to a stranger. He realized that no matter how little he had, there are always people who had even less. You could read his daily blog at "A Year of Giving", where he chronicles about each individual he gave to, what was their personal histories and how did they intend to use the money.

I came across Reed's story in March, 2010, and I have been an avid reader of his blog. The generosity and the humanity of Reed and almost all of the people were incredibly uplifting. It's not just about the money, since $10 is such a small amount for most of us. It's the fact that Reed took the time and effort to get to know each person he gave to.

Inspired by his effort, I created a Facebook event called "Give a Stranger 10 Bucks Day" for October 10, 2010. I thought that 10-10-10 would be an easy day to remember for people to try to replicate Reed's effort. It is also my 32nd birthday, and I have always hoped that my blip of a presence on this big green world might be positively impactful in some way. Asking my friends to give away $10 for my birthday seemed like a better way to celebrate than filling me up with alcohol. :)

Finally, the day of my birthday came. It was a typically rainy autumn day in Seattle. I hosted at home a small gathering of friends the night before, so I had a late start to the day. I have been looking forward to doing this for months, so I have had a plan in mind already. My plan was to go for a walk on Aurora Avenue and see what I see.

For those of you who do not know Seattle well, Aurora Ave. is located at the north end of the city and is a major thoroughfare for the city. It is also famous for its motels, fast food joints, transient population and all the down-on-their-luck people you would expect. On a rainy October Sunday afternoon though, it is quite empty. That's where I met Miguel.

Miguel was waiting for the bus to go downtown at 91st and Aurora. He told me that he was visiting friends by Greenwood, had some breakfast at Chunky Monkey, the near by Cuban/Mexican food stand and was heading to work on bus number 358. I walked past him at first, and then I doubled back to chat him up. Obviously, he was quite startled when I first tried to explain the concept to him. I showed him Reed's blog on my phone so that he could see the photos of all the people Reed has interacted with over the past months.

Miguel eventually agreed to accept the $10, but I was not quite brave enough to take a picture of him though. He told me that he lived by First Hill and worked as handyman. He was originally from El Salvador but had been living in Seattle for the last 20 years or so. He was visiting friends and wanted to have breakfast at Paladar Cubano, which was apparently replaced by Chunky Monkey now.

When I asked him what he would use the $10 for, he says that he would donate it when he attends mass next Sunday. I asked him why he would not spend it on himself or his family, he smiled and said he was doing quite well and do not need the money. The bus came, he waved goodbye to me and hopped on.

That was it! The entire encounter lasted no more than 10 minutes. Miguel was understandably distrustful of my intention at first but was quick to warm to the whole concept. My $10 would hopefully be a fun anecdote for him to tell and some Catholic church would be about to use that money for its social work.

I turned around and headed home. I thought about all of the US$10 bills in the world and what kind of intention and destiny are attached with each one of them. Thanks, Reed, for making my 32nd birthday such an interesting one. There are things I could still do besides volunteering my time with BEAN to make an unexpected impact in the world.

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