At first I politely declined to help her. I did NOT want to be part of some scam. I didn't want to go down for returning a stolen movie. She started to get upset and started to beg. She told me again how she just needed to buy some groceries. I asked to see the movie. Everything was intact - the plastic hadn't been opened, it was in almost perfect condition (the sides of the cover were a little worn). There was no reason Wal-Mart wouldn't accept it as a return. I knew that I would be issued a store gift card, so her purchase would be limited to something in the store. And then I thought of my little Andyroo and all the grandmothers I know who are/were taking care of their grandchildren. Things are tight for us financially - I think they are for everyone. I couldn't bear the thought of my little one at home, needing food. I thought about how (assuming her story was true) embarrassing this must be for her and how desperate she must be to be asking perfect strangers for help. She stood there silently waiting for an answer.
And then I thought back to an experience I had at Wal-Mart a few years ago. For the last more than three years my mom and I have been doing our grocery shopping together. We were out with Andyroo for our weekly grocery shopping trip and Andyroo was being especially difficult. It was right around his first Christmas - so he was about 5 months old. He was not an easy baby by any stretch of the imagination (didn't sleep well, had some colic/reflux, always wanted to be bounced and moved around and held ALL the time). This particular shopping trip had been pretty difficult. Andyroo wanted to be bounced the WHOLE TIME through the store. My arms and legs were tired from bouncing him through the whole store, I was tired of the crying and was just mentally and physically exhausted. We were really, really struggling financially and as a couple. I had no idea what we were going to do for Christmas (this was just a few weeks before Christmas). I was ready to break down and cry at any moment. So we're in the checkout line. My mom was buying her groceries ahead of me and there was at least one (maybe two) people in line ahead of her. I was busy trying to keep Andrew calm and I wasn't paying attention to what was going on around me. As I got up to the register to pay, the cashier said to me, "Don't look in your bags until you get home." That was really weird and made me really curious. Apparently my mom had witnessed the whole thing, but luckily she showed me what it was when we got out to the car. Some very kind, generous woman had purchased a $20 gift card and asked the cashier to put it in my bag! I was completely in shock, to say the least. Since then, I've always thought that I would like to be able to "pay it forward" like she had. Do something kind and anonymous like that for someone else. We've never been in a position to do that, but one day I hope to be.
As I thought about that experience, I didn't feel threatened or taken advantage of by this ragged woman standing in front of me. Instead I felt compassion and a desire to help. I quietly agreed to help her. She genuinely thanked me and we proceeded to go into the store. I took the movie to customer service and waited together awkwardly in line. I'm not really an outgoing person, so we didn't talk much. I bent down to fix the velcro on my shoe and we briefly talked about how our shoes never stay done up and how they fit perfectly so you don't want to get rid of the old, worn out things. After what seemed like an hour, it was finally my turn and I was given a gift card for exactly $26.61. No questions asked (though I had thought up a story about how my son had gotten 2 copies for his birthday - just in case. I also over-think everything).After the transaction, a safe distance away from customer service, I handed her the gift card, told her to buy some food and get home to feed those grandbabies. She smiled, said she would, and we went our separate ways.
I have no idea what she actually bought with the gift card. This very could have been a scam - purchase (or steal) the movie from somewhere else and bring it to Wal-Mart because they'll take back anything. I can only hope that she really was in need and that she did, in fact, use the money to buy her grandbabies some food.