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The things you learn hawking papers at Modesto's 5 Points

Five Points is quite an interesting place to spend a weekday morning.

For those unfamiliar with Modesto, it's the intersection of five streets -- McHenry and Downey avenues, and Needham, 17th and J streets. On its various corners you'll find a Denny's, a small strip mall, a law office, a Jack in the Box and the Ralston Tower seniors complex. Oh, and last but not least, the "American Graffiti"-inspired life-sized sculpture of a young couple sitting on the hood of a classic car.

That's where I spent a couple of hours Tuesday morning -- not sitting on the hood with the sculpted couple but standing on the curb selling special copies of The Bee as part of our annual Kids' Day fund-raiser for The Salvation Army's Red Shield Center.

During the stretch from 7 to 9 -- the prime morning drive time -- I saw an amazing assortment of people, vehicles and activities.

I saw people I knew and people I didn't, young people and old people, rich people and poor people, business owners and blue-collar workers, public officials and even a cop or two. I saw fancy cars and clunkers, pickups and taxis, motorcycles and school buses, convertibles and even a few RVs. I saw people drinking coffee, putting on makeup, eating doughnuts, singing along with the radio or a CD, talking on the phone, and ranting and raving at the length of the red light.

I saw people I was sure would buy a Kids' Day paper look the other way, people happily hold up a copy they bought several blocks away and people I thought would say "no" hand me not one but two or even five bucks to help underprivileged and at-risk youth. I even saw an elderly woman wheel her way from Ralston Tower to buy $20 of papers from a fellow hawker -- and apologizing that because of the recession she couldn't give $50 as she did last year.

A little before 8:30, an old sedan pulled up and stopped several cars from the stoplight. Both the car and the driver looked like they had seen better days, I thought as I stepped off the curb and approached the woman behind the wheel. After rummaging in her purse for a minute, she dumped the entire contents onto the passenger seat before finally shaking her head and dropping a handful of coins in my hand.

"I'm sorry, but that's all I have," she said as the light turned to green and an impatient man a car back honked for her to get moving. "God bless you," she said, smiling. And with that she was gone.

I looked at the coins in my hand. Two quarters, a dime, two nickels and a penny. Seventy-one cents. That's all she had, and she had given it away to help someone in need.

Her generosity reminded me of a Bible story I first heard as a child, the one about the poor widow who gave two coins -- worth less than a penny -- as her offering. Her meager gift paled in comparison to those of the wealthy, but it was everything she had, and for that selfless act she was greatly blessed.

Every year we see people like that woman at Five Points -- people who are struggling to get from one day to the next and who don't have much to give, but who give what little they do have to help others. They're a great example of what we reported on in Friday's paper -- the fact that America's poor donate more, percentagewise, than those with higher incomes. And their generosity declines less during tough times than that of more wealthy givers.

During my two hours at Five Points, I received about $100 in donations -- and I thank each and every person who gave.

By the time our Kids' Day campaign ended, between the 13,000 papers sold on the street and some very generous donations, we had collected more than $65,000 for the Red Shield Center.

And somewhere in those tens of thousands of dollars was that 71 cents, a special gift from a special woman. God bless her.

Vasché, The Bee's editor and senior vice president, can be reached at mvasche@modbee.com or 578-2356.