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Giving back to your community is not always about donating money or even volunteering your time. While those things are extremely important, we can also be creative when thinking about how we give back. Giving back can take many forms. Take my interaction with Margo, for example.  

Margo was standing in the middle of a coffee shop in Whalley with tears streaming down her face. I asked her if I could help. She explained that she thought that the elderly couple seated behind me were her parents. Since she hadn’t seen them in years, she was unsure.  

At my urging, she approached the man and woman and asked if they were her father and mother. Clearly surprised by her question, they answered “No.” The elderly man dismissed Margo as one of the many panhandlers who frequented the shop and pestered patrons for money.  

But Margo didn’t ask them for money. She appeared so vulnerable and childlike. Perhaps it was her tears. It seemed to me that there was more to Margo’s story.  

I was right. Margo wandered outside the shop and into the middle of the busy street shouting at the traffic she was now responsible for stopping. One angry driver shouted back, telling her to get off the road and out of his way. A passerby gently coaxed Margo back into the coffee shop. He was a calming influence, taking the time to talk with her and keeping her seated at a table. 

As I left the coffee shop, I said goodbye to Margo and her friend. She wanted to know my name before asking, “Are you my mother?” She began to cry when I said no. When I asked her to smile for me instead, she produced the biggest and most beautiful smile as we said our goodbyes. 

My interaction with Margo was a good reminder that people’s lives are complicated. Things are not always as they seem. Margo was not a panhandler, nor did she appear to be homeless or on drugs. But she was clearly struggling with mental health issues.  

We don’t always know how to respond to people like Margo. It is difficult to meet their needs and solve their many problems. But giving back means that we can simply treat them with respect and dignity. When we are compassionate toward people in need, we touch their lives and they touch ours. Today, Margo touched mine.