Every year about this time, we begin getting announcements requesting donations of warm clothes, hats and gloves, food for the holidays, gift cards and new toys. And in spite of national media reports of a restored economy, the list of those in need seems to get more extensive each year as well.
The needy encompass many groups – the Episcopal church focuses on children of prison inmates, for example, while others limit themselves to particular towns, to children, or to veterans or the homeless. And whether it’s a request for an outright donation, or a gift in exchange for a Christmas tree ornament on a Giving Tree or a concert admission, fund drives are everywhere as the holidays approach. Even schoolchildren get lessons in helping others as they collect pennies or canned food for their less fortunate friends.
We live in towns with high income levels and don’t have much occasion to come across people who appear to be suffering from a lack of money. Yet there are homeless children in our schools, families where the parents are working multiple jobs just to stay afloat, soup kitchens and food pantries that regularly strain to feed those in need, and high numbers of children qualifying by family income – or lack of it – for free and reduced lunch at school. Two feeding programs for children ran this past summer in Derry to make sure youngsters had a free meal while school was not in session.
The economy surely is better than it has been, but that improvement didn’t bring along higher wages to meet an ever-increasing cost of living. And with Congress choosing not to give a cost-of-living increase this coming year to persons struggling to get by on the Social Security they paid out during their working years, even as Medicare costs rise, we can expect more elderly to have to make the unconscionable choice of food or rent or medicine. And those same elderly are often the least likely to ask for help.
For those of us fortunate enough to have jobs or a retirement income that allows us to pay our bills and give our family some extras, we invite you to consider the requests for help that highlight the coming holiday season. Some extra food, a pair of gloves and a scarf, or a toy for a child who might not otherwise get one – those are small sacrifices to make in light of the happiness they will bring. And that’s truly part of the spirit of the holiday season.