Taking Candy from Strangers

We’re taught as kids to distrust the stranger, to be skeptical of help that comes from the unknown, and of help that comes without expectation of return.  We begin to assume that if someone helps us, then they must want something back.

And yet on this trip, I’ve learned to trust in the stranger and welcome help from the unknown. Strangers have given us keys to their homes, a seat at their table, helping hands in a crisis.

Give what you can, we say at Eat for Equity. But how do you respond when people – when strangers, even – give much more than you ever expected? Every challenge we’ve faced on the road has been opportunity to be blown away by the kindness of strangers and to really live our mission to build a culture of generosity.

Many of our organizers were relative strangers before we pulled up with our RV trailer and moved in with them for a week or more. We’d never met Kellie before, or Mary and Kiff, before they helped us back our trailer into their respective driveways in Springfield, MO, and New Orleans, LA, and gave us keys to their homes.

Total strangers have shared their space with us through Couchsurfing, like Ali in Chicago, Mo in Charleston, Lisa in Washington, D.C. As soon as we met Ali, he took us out for late-night tacos and volunteered to host an Eat for Equity the following week. The night we met Lisa, she helped us avert yet another trailer crisis and poured us a glass of wine.

Another online community, Mealsharing, was a way to meet strangers who wanted to open up their kitchens to other strangers. We ate plantains five different ways with Jessica, tikka masala with Devin, and we found surprise connections at their dinner table.

A stranger helped me bathe my dog in a campground restroom on Lake Michigan, after my dog made friends with a skunk and got sprayed at close range. Two strangers [both to each other, and to me] came together to bring my dog to safety when he got out of our host’s backyard and started exploring the streets of Chicago on his own.

A couple strangers at an North Carolina RV park helped us change a tire with a slow leak, then gaveus a primer on changing tires that we used less than an hour later when another tire imploded on the highway. A neighbor in Washington, D.C., saw us struggling to back up in the alleyway and spent the next hour helping us try to cornerback into an impossible spot.

And then, when the trailer popped off the hitch while we were driving in New Orleans, we pulled over, and we called Lee. Only 48 hours earlier, Lee had been a stranger to us.

Lee dropped what he was doing, and drove over with his jacks and his engineer friend. After he helped us fix the problem on the side of the road, Lee pressed $200 into my hand. When at first I declined, saying he’d given so much already, he said he and his wife, Linda, had been blessed by God with the gift of money, and wanted to spread it around.

I started tearing up on the side of the road. Someone helps you like that, with no expectation of return, and you can feel overwhelmed by other people’s generosity. Maybe it’s that discomfort we’re taught to feel about being in someone’s debt, about not being able to right the imbalance with a gift of similar value.

If your friends and family help you, you know you’ll have chances to pay them back over time, help them when they need it. When a stranger helps you, chances are, you’ll never have an opportunity to give it back.

So you have to trust that when people offer help, they’re choosing to give something they don’t expect to get back from you. And you’ve just got to keep giving it forward, to other strangers and travelers and people who need it. As this leg of the tour comes to a close, I feel indebted to the collective of strangers who have helped us each mile of the way.  I’ve got a lot of banked up love I need to share, so strangers, you’re welcome at my table anytime.