Have you ever been at such a low point in your life where you had to stoop to the point of begging somebody for food? I am going to assume you have not been — only because most haven’t. I am not rich, but I have been blessed with the ability to become financially comfortable. This was by no means the case for most of my life, though.

I grew up poor. We literally had no money. There were many factors to this, but I do not believe I need to elaborate on them. The fact of the matter is my two sisters and I grew up lacking all luxuries, and at times, even the bare essentials. Nowadays, we all enjoy our laptops, iPhones, flat screen TVs, Tempur-Pedic mattresses, etc., but when I say bare essentials, I am referring to food, water, and shelter. Water was never an issue. Food and shelter were.

Joe Nilsen as a child poor

My mother is the strongest woman I have ever known. She would leave for her first job before I woke up for school and would not return from her second job until after I went to sleep at night. If there were anybody who deserved to never feel an ounce of shame, it would be her. She is by no means arrogant or cocky — however, she does have a healthy amount of pride. There were times when outside influences were not draining her finances to the fullest extent and we were comfortable with the bare essentials, but there were also many times that we were not so fortunate.

She was raising 3 kids, working 18 hours a day, not spending a penny on any luxuries, and tip-toeing the line of extreme exhaustion for years. Although this was the case, she still was not able to provide for her family at all times. Anybody who reads this may have the thought that drugs or alcohol may have been a factor, but I assure you, they were not. I have memories deeply embedded in me of my mother crying hysterically while apologizing to us kids because there was no food in the refrigerator, the electric was shut off, or plenty of other unfortunate circumstances were occurring. Reflecting back to our situation, I ask myself the question (and I urge you to ask yourself this question as well),

My mother is the type of person who will sit at a broken stoplight that is reading red in the middle of the desert for hours just because “You don’t break the law — No Matter What”. Excluding any type of illegal activities, the truth is, she did not have any options. There were times where she had to go to relief shelters to feed us. I remember her crying when she had to call my elementary school to apply for the “Family Assistance Program”, a program the school had that provided “underprivileged” students school-funded lunch cards. I can only imagine how degraded, embarrassed, ashamed, and disappointed she must have felt in having to do these things.

These days, I make sure my mother will never have to have the slightest inkling of these feelings again. Having had the opportunity to grow up how I did, I was able to witness firsthand one particular case of how somebody could try hard yet still need assistance.

Everybody has a story. We are all humans and we tend to pass judgment onto others, whether we intend to or not. When you come across those less fortunate than yourself, I urge you to try to remember that they are human as well. They too have a unique and often extraordinary story — a story you know nothing about. Nobody enjoys begging for food. They do it because they have to.

To answer your question, if somebody is begging for food in a restaurant, I buy him or her whatever I can afford. I invite them to eat with me. I ask to hear their story if they care to tell it. I offer my story if they care to hear it. When a person is living under such terrible circumstances, it can make them feel almost sub-human. A friendly, general conversation over a meal will probably mean more to this person than most could imagine. Depending on whatever type of situation it is, I do my best to be of service to them in anyway I can.

Joe Nilsen helping other people

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Joe Nilsen

Tried & true chef forged in the fires of the best restaurants in NYC. 🔥 Smartened up. Began writing and selling. 👨‍💻 https://www.linkedin.com/in/joe-nilsen/