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What child beggars in India taught me about Thanksgiving

We must be careful about judging panhandlers. Helping others solely in gratitude to God is the true essence of Thanksgiving.

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When is it OK to give money to beggars? Many of us are faced with that question on our daily commute to work. The holiday season seems to be a time when it is especially on our minds.

It was not until I traveled to India in 2005 that I found myself wondering, for the first time, if indulging panhandlers was indeed an act of charity. But the 10 days I spent there also taught me the true meaning of Thanksgiving – unselfish giving.

My best friend, Sujaya, was adopting twins, and my daughter and I were tagging along for support. We stepped off the plane in India to be rushed by barefoot cabbies soliciting passengers. And we soon joined the thick traffic as edgy drivers blasted their horns all around us.

"Reminds me of the mall on Black Friday," my daughter commented about the sidewalks jammed with Indians, their beautiful women bedecked in colorful saris. "Welcome to the next economic superstar," I replied.

I knew that despite recent media accounts of India's "imminent economic superstardom," some 280 million Indians subsist daily on less than $1.

Due to a few well-timed investments, I'd come willing to dole out as many dollars as possible. However, legendary though the street beggars of India may be, their rapacity and ubiquity startled me. Beggars swarmed us with outstretched arms as our cab crawled through traffic. Mile after mile, unkempt, barefoot children commingled with traffic beseeching tourists for money.

During the entire trip, despite the fact that my friend specifically warned that giving to street children encourages them to stay out of school, I gladly doled out dollars to street people. It was just after Thanksgiving in the United States, after all.

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