The Holiday season is always an interesting time of mixed messages and conflicting value statements. Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season where the intention is to express gratefulness for what we have been provided and share our good fortune with family and friends. Then comes the Christmas season; a time when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ closely followed by the start of a new year when there is a sense of a new beginning.
Thanksgiving is a time when the meal is often a memorable family feast. Many individuals can fondly look back at some family focused Thanksgiving Day. We ate more food than we should have and visited with family and friends in some crowed home where the younger children ran amok, some family members attempted to watch football, often falling asleep, some family members discussed past and present topics of interest, some played cards or board games. These Norman Rockwell moments are often positive memories that helped bond families.
As a prelude to this Thanksgiving, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise historically known as the Food Stamp Program, experienced a huge funding cut, impacting millions of households, making it more difficult for those household to put food on the table. The prospect exists for additional devastating cuts to SNAP that will increase the difficulty with food insecurity for millions of households. How will those households reliant on SNAP, consisting of mostly children, elderly and the disabled, celebrate Thanksgiving? Will the children have fond memories of the feast that they will partake in celebrating their good fortune for what they have? Should they be thankful for looking at having less in the future to feed their family? Should we be thankful for living in the richest nation on the planet where children go hunger because of some political ideology? We all indeed have much to think about as we celebrate our Thanksgiving Day and partake in a meal where food abounds and family and friends reflect on what they are grateful for and what they look forward to in the future.
The Christmas season is a time to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ, the founder of the Christian faith. While some of this dominates the season, it has been overwhelmed by a consumer driven shop fest. This shopping free-for- all starts right after, although this year apparently starting before, Thanksgiving Day with mega sales designed to instil spending excess during a season that should be about solemn reflection on the birth of a baby who produced arguably the greatest religion on the planet. Some retail businesses experience upwards of 40% of their annual sales between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. The Christmas season is one of the worst periods for lower income families because the stress of unbridled consumerism makes these income strapped household believe they too can spend more than they should and everything will be alright. Everything is alright until the bills come due and the euphoria of the Christmas season turns into the dread of a new year.
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The start of a new year is the impetus for many people to develop goals and plans for the next twelve months, however, many lower income households experience the bills from excessive spending or bills from overlooked expenses that allowed excessive spending. DPCAA has historically seen a decline in emergency assistance requests during the holiday season followed by an increase in demand for assistance in January, February and March. This does not occur every year but does occur with some regularity. Due to sequestration and other funding cuts, the amount of emergency assistance funding available has greatly diminished, therefore obtaining such assistance through DPCAA will become harder and harder.
The holiday season is a time when we often see the better nature of people because they do concern themselves with the comfort of others through the donation of food, gifts and money. It is too bad that this lasts for less than a month and that many people return to lives that express far less concern for the wellbeing of others and even contempt for the less fortunate in society. I have stated in past articles written during the holiday season that it would really be nice to see the spirit of Christmas extend throughout the year. Thinking about the wellbeing of others should be a constant within society and is reflective of the teachings of the baby born on that day Christians celebrate as Christmas.
There are a multitude of ways to give during this season that encompasses Thanksgiving Day through Christmas Day. There are also a wide range of ways to express our concern for our collective well-being for others throughout the year. If you have money, give it freely, if you have the time volunteer and if you have different ways to help others do so without question. We truly are our brother’s keeper and must love our neighbor as ourselves. If you use this as your guiding principle you already know what must be done and how to reach those in need. Those who fail to fully comprehend the message to be derived from being our brother’s keeper and loving your neighbor as yourselves need to contemplate the meaning of this guidance and work to use these principles to guide your life journey.
Perry Lundon, Executive Director, Dakota Prairie Community Action Agency, 223 4th Street NE, Devils Lake, ND