Some of you will have heard this story before, but I was reminded again by this post about helping strangers.
People say it is usually a bad idea to give cash to strangers, and I think that is often true. It is easy to be scammed and often better to point people to charities with screening procedures, or perhaps to hand out granola bars. (I'm planning to keep some in my car to offer to people with signs by the side of the road.) But I think there are exceptions...
Once, when I was still in college, a man caught up to me in a church parking lot in Silver Spring. He said he and his wife had just moved halfway across the country so he could take a new job, but their apartment wasn’t ready, unexpectedly. They didn't know a soul in the city and didn’t want to go to a homeless shelter (and, honestly, I wouldn't either…) and he asked if I could spare some money to help pay for a couple nights at a cheap hotel.
He showed me a copy of his lease and a printout of the hotel quote, and he said he could give me a check to pay me back as long as I promised not to cash it for a few weeks, until he got his first paycheck from his new job. His wife was waiting in the car.
It was the kind of thing that would have been pretty hard for me or anyone to verify, and I doubt any charity would give this man cash for a hotel room. I felt that this guy was probably telling the truth, though, so I went to an ATM and took out my last $80 or so. (My summer job would not start for a few weeks.) The man gave me a check to cover just about all of it and wrote his phone number on it.
When I called a few weeks later to see if I could cash the check, the number was dead. It was an out-of-town number, and if it had ever been in service, it had been discontinued after the move. So I cashed the check anyway, and it didn't bounce.