At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,’ said the gentleman, taking up a pen, ‘it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. ... We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.’
Dickens really had a way of phrasing things. “Want” is more keenly felt at the holidays, precisely because those who have less are bombarded with the sights and sounds of the abundance around them. We all know what it is to want something badly, but “want” also has a very different meaning. It means not being able to heat your home. It means food pantry runs once a month, and trying to pay last month’s rent with this month’s money. Or it means hoping that the shelter still has an open bed, because your tent got wet in the last storm and you can’t manage to dry it out. It means cheap sneakers with thin padding, and your back hurting from working in the checkout line all day.
At the holidays, we sometimes think about “the poor” in a Dickensian sense, as though poverty still looks like scrawny children wrapped in rags against the cold, selling matches or shoe shines on the corner. The poor are all around us, but often we don’t recognize them, because they’re the nice McDonald’s worker who always remembers how you take your coffee. Or the helpful clerk who has pictures of her two adorable kids taped to the side of her work station. Or the hilarious retiree who has a joke for you every Sunday at church. Or your kids classmates who quietly get their free lunch and tell big lies about the cool stuff they have at home, only their mom won’t let them bring it to school because they might lose it.
So if the poor are everywhere, what can we do about it?
First, give to the charities that help. Food banks can stretch a dollar from a dime because they can buy in bulk, so sending a check will make more of a dent than actual food donations. If you do donate food, please make sure that it’s not expired, and try to donate things that you would like to eat yourself.
If you donate to a toy drive, be sure to donate toys that have not been wrapped, because the charity then has to unwrap them to see which gift would be appropriate for which child. Try to avoid battery operated toys if possible, to avoid the future burden of buying batteries. And please be culturally sensitive - not every little girl wants a blond, blue-eyed doll, they might want a doll that looks like them. These small touches brighten the heart, because they show that you truly care.
Second, watch the people around you. Do you know a person who wears an inadequate coat, or whose shoes rubber are starting to peel away? Ask them quietly if you can offer them a replacement. I love hand-me-downs, but other people might feel strongly about picking something for themselves, so if it’s within your means, a gift card to a clothing store might be the best gift they’ve gotten all year. A single mom you know might appreciate a McDonald’s or pizza shop gift card, just to make their evening a little easier. A loaf of homemade pumpkin bread, a casserole, or a nice cup of coffee can warm someone’s heart as well as their belly.
Third, charity literally means “love”. As Mr. Roger said, “It’s you I like.” Tell someone you like them just for being themselves, and each day is made special because they are in it. Just those simple, kind words could turn a whole day around for someone. This is your opportunity to show humankind that you care.
And you know what? I like YOU just the way you are.