Michelle Martin

How far would you go?

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

The other day, my husband asked me whether I would sit outside a grocery store and beg for money if it was the only way I could feed my children.

I laughed it off, joked that stealing food from the store might be more effective. And while I generally respect property rights and don’t believe I have a right to others’ goods, if my kids were starving? All bets would be off. I’d gladly become a thief to keep them alive.

Of course, the people sitting outside Jewel and Mariano’s and Whole Foods have an entirely different calculus to consider. If I shoplifted food from a grocery store, I might be arrested, might be charged with retail theft. But as a first-time offender, punishment would likely be relatively light.

If a migrant who has fled their home country because they believe their family will not survive there is caught shoplifting, and convicted, they — and their children — could be sent back to face whatever dire situation motivated them to leave in the first place.

That motivation must be strong, to undertake a journey that includes the 66-mile crossing of the Darien Gap, a roadless and lawless stretch of river delta and jungle where the hazards come from nature as well as people who prey on the vulnerable, then a long trek by whatever means are available, taking whatever risks are necessary, through Central America.

To do it with a toddler or an infant? To do it as a teenager alone? What would make you do that? What circumstances are there that would make you say, ‘Yes, that’s the better plan’?”

Let me be clear: I’ve heard people in my circle complain about hard trips and tough travel days when they missed their connecting flight and had to wait for the next one. I’ve done it myself.

But if the lives of my children were at stake, what would I do? How far would I go? Wrapping myself and my little one in a blanket and getting someone to help me write a sign in English seeking help and sitting in the cold for a few hours doesn’t seem like that much in those circumstances.

We are told over and over again that we should find the face of Jesus in all those we meet, especially those who are poor and suffering. We are told over and over again that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do for Jesus.

So yes, I do often give money to people who ask for it, perhaps to the consternation of the managers of the stores. If I see the same families in the same place over several days, I might bring a small toy for the children.

But, like the rich young man who went away sad, I have not sold all I have and given it to the poor. I have a roof over my head, heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. If I were to donate clothes to the migrants (and many organizations are saying, please, no more old clothes just now), I would be doing myself a favor by making room in my closet.

So I ask myself again, how far would you go?


  • family life
  • migrants