It was only after she had selected and paid for the new coat that Mary Lou began wondering about Lucia and Isabel. She thought about their circumstances and wondered if they had nice winter coats to wear during the upcoming cold and stormy season. She wondered if they had ever afforded a new coat, purchased on the spur of the moment like Mary Lou had just done. She doubted they had, but maybe they had. In better days possibly. Probably not now, though. The economy had declined and the circumstances for undocumented immigrants had undoubtedly gotten worse too.
Back, before the economic decline, if Mary Lou remembered correctly, nobody much cared about the "invasion" of immigrants into the nation. Oh, there had been a few extremists even then, as there always were, but the fanatics didn't have much impact or influence back then. Most people had seemed quite content. It had been back when almost everybody who wanted a job that they would qualify for could get a job, however. It had been back when there was a bigger pay gap between the jobs for citizens and the jobs for immigrants.
As the higher paying jobs evaporated with a flagging economy, though, the heat had been turned up on the undocumented workers. Citizens who had lost their jobs soon had a lot of time on their hands, a lot of time with too little to do and too little incentive or moxie to do it with, so they had all of their pent-up emotion. Their anxiety had caused them to think defensively about their evolving situation and some of them --- and it seemed more and more of them all the time ---took out their fears and exasperations on the immigrants.
Anyway, Mary Lou hadn't ever contemplated the ethics of purchasing a coat before. She thought about it now. Was it because these two people --- Lucia and Isabel --- both had faces and personalities and she knew them? She was beginning to care about them. There was a whole world of poor people out there, however, hundreds of millions more poor and in worse circumstances than Lucia and Isabel. Mary Lou didn't think the measure of her morality was measured in terms of what needed to be done in the whole wide world, but in what she could reasonably do herself. Of course, a person like her could live a life of greater thrift than they were living in order to give away more to those in need.
As a young adult, Mary Lou had read Pearl Buck's novel, The Good Earth. She remembered its protagonist, Wang Lung, a Chinese peasant, and his wife, O-Lan. Wang Lung had survived hardships and made his way up in the world. Then even more easily he had lost it all.