Josiah Duncan talk to an unidentified homeless man.
Courtesy Ava Faulk
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Story highlights

A 5-year-old boy didn't know what the word "homeless" meant

When he found out a hungry man was probably homeless, he decided to feed him

(CNN) —  

Faced with a homeless man standing outside a restaurant, what would you do? And what do you tell your children if they ask why he’s standing out there?

Ava Faulk of Prattville, Alabama, knew what to tell her 5-year-old son a few weeks ago.

Faulk and her son, Josiah Duncan, were eating dinner at a local Waffle House when they spotted a man with his bike holding a bag outside the restaurant.

Noticing that the man wasn’t clean, Josiah started doing what children do: asking his mom a lot of questions.

“He’s homeless,” Faulk told her son, according to CNN affiliate WSFA. But Josiah didn’t know what that meant.

“Well, that means he doesn’t have a home,” Faulk said.

Faulk said he was most troubled by the fact that the man looked hungry.

She sent an email about her son’s reaction to WSFA, which featured him in a “Making a difference” segment.

Josiah told his mother that she should buy the man a meal, which she agreed to do.

“He came in and sat down, and nobody really waited on him,” Faulk told WSFA. “Josiah jumped up and asked him if he needed a menu because you can’t order without one.”

While the man started out by choosing a low-cost burger, they told him to order whatever he wanted. “Can I have bacon?” was his question, Faulk said. “I told him get as much bacon you want.”

That’s when Josiah brought the restaurant to tears.

“I wanted to say the blessing with him,” he said.

With 11 other patrons in the restaurant, Josiah started to sing: “God our Father, God our Father, we thank you, we thank you, for our many blessings, for our many blessings, amen, amen.”

“The man cried. I cried. Everybody cried,” Faulk said.

The man went on his way shortly thereafter, but Faulk says the gifts she got from his visit will remain with her.

“You never know who the angel on Earth is, and when the opportunity comes you should never walk away from it,” Faulk said in her email to WSFA. “Watching my son touch the 11 people in that Waffle House tonight will be forever one of the greatest accomplishments as a parent I’ll ever get to witness.”

Parents whose kids are curious about such issues can tell them an age-appropriate version of the truth and take direct action, as Faulk did with her son.

Another option is to carry snacks or bags with nonperishable food and toiletries in the car to hand out to people on the roadside when the need arises. A deeper commitment would be volunteering in a local soup kitchen or food bank and tackling the problem of homelessness and hunger in a more sustained way.

What other ways can we teach our children compassion and the power of helping others? Weigh in with CNN Parents on Facebook.