TAMPA, Fla. — A story of stolen valor: A panhandler purporting to be a combat veteran asking for money from passing drivers in Florida.
That is, until a Tampa man began asking questions and getting answers he didn’t like.
“Show me your veterans ID card,” asked a worked-up Garrett Goodwin on a video he uploaded to his Facebook page Sunday.
“I don’t have one, sir,” replied the still-unidentified and nowhere-to-be-found man.
He was wearing an Army uniform and a high-visibility vest while panhandling at the corner of Dale Mabry and Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa.
“Then take off my uniform!” said Garrett, who served as an Army combat medic from 1994 through 2003.
Garrett happened to be driving through the main route to MacDill Air Force Base on Sunday when he saw the panhandler, according to 8News affiliate KGTV.
“And I would have made sure he had a place to live and food in his stomach and the services he needed,” he said. “But he wasn’t a veteran.”
“You take that uniform off,” he said in the video.
“Yes sir,” the panhandler said.
Garrett said it was a JROTC patch on the man’s uniform that raised a red flag.
After his questions to verify the man’s veteran status was evaded, Garrett continued to press until it appeared that the panhandler retreated.
“I’m about public safety and public service,” Garrett said. “And when it comes to the military, seeing people in uniform that, you know, we bled, sweat, cried and burned through — it disgusts me.”
Since posting the video on the web, Garrett has garnered tons of praise for exposing the ersatz serviceman, but also a bit of grief for his gruff approach.
“I think he owed us an explanation,” said Garrett flatly. “Some people have called me a bully on the internet, and I think he’s a bully wearing a uniform holding up a sign walking up to people’s cars in an intersection looking for money. I think he’s bullying people out of their money.”
What Garrett said must have worked, though, because there was no sign of the panhandler Monday during rush hour, KGTV reports.
Garrett said the police have been alerted to keep a keen eye out for him.
Homeless advocates say you shouldn’t give people money, but there are plenty of things you can do. Here are some ideas from JustGive.org:
- Give recyclables – In localities where there is a “bottle law,” collecting recyclable cans and bottles is often the only “job” available to the homeless. But it is an honest job that requires initiative. You can help by saving your recyclable bottles, cans, and newspapers and giving them to the homeless instead of taking them to a recycling center or leaving them out for collection. If you live in a larger city, you may wish to leave your recyclables outside for the homeless to pick up — or give a bagful of cans to a homeless person in your neighborhood.
- Donate clothing – Next time you do your spring or fall cleaning, keep an eye out for those clothes that you no longer wear. If these items are in good shape, gather them together and donate them to organizations that provide housing for the homeless.
- Donate a bag of groceries – Load up a bag full of nonperishable groceries, and donate it to a food drive in your area. If your community doesn’t have a food drive, organize one. Contact your local soup kitchens, shelters, and homeless societies and ask what kind of food donations they would like.
- Donate toys – Children living in shelters have few possessions –if any– including toys. Homeless parents have more urgent demands on what little money they have, such as food and clothing. So often these children have nothing to play with and little to occupy their time. You can donate toys, books, and games to family shelters to distribute to homeless children. For Christmas or Chanukah, ask your friends and co-workers to buy and wrap gifts for homeless children.
- Volunteer at a shelter – Shelters thrive on the work of volunteers, from those who sign people in, to those who serve meals, to others who counsel the homeless on where to get social services. For the homeless, a shelter can be as little as a place to sleep out of the rain or as much as a step forward to self-sufficiency.
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen – Soup kitchens provide one of the basics of life, nourishing meals for the homeless and other disadvantaged members of the community. Volunteers generally do much of the work, including picking up donations of food, preparing meals, serving it, and cleaning up afterward. To volunteer your services, contact you local soup kitchen, mobile food program, shelter, or religious center.