Friday, November 23, 2007

Just a little holiday perspective

Something to think about while you’re sitting around today, still sort of druggy-acting from yesterday’s overdose of tryptophan-laden turkey and other goodies.

Last Saturday, after our big yard sale, the Missus and I loaded up all of the leftover stuff – books and warm clothing mostly – and trucked them over to the Salvation Army (this was before the tire went flat episode).

Not the Salvation Army thrift store, mind you. We took our stuff to the Salvation Army compound with their ‘soup kitchen’, emergency housing and other services. If you take the stuff to the thrift store, it gets recycled to the store where they sell it. That’s not a bad thing – Salvation Army gets the cash, duh. But we wanted the folks at the shelter to get first crack at the warm clothing, so that’s where we took it.

You want some perspective about your place in the scheme of things and a glimpse into how things are going here in the world’s richest country? Visit a Salvation Army shelter and kitchen at mealtime on the day after the season’s first serious cold snap. That’s how things are going.

Some years back, when the Missus and I used to help run Community with a Heart, we frequently delivered donations to the shelter – so the general scene wasn’t anything new. The benches and green spaces out front collect people (men mostly) sitting and smoking cigarettes - or just sitting. (The first time I visited the place, I wondered about the high rate of cigarette smoking, but then it occurred to me that people with good decision-making skills don’t typically end up at the Salvation Army shelter. )

Thanks to Compassionate Conservatism shifting our tax dollars from social services to Halliburton and Bechtel, more and more people who show up at shelters are folks who at one time would have been under some kind of taxpayer-subsidized psychiatric care. Some would be in-patients, but most would simply have access to out-patient benefits like counselling or prescription drugs in order to help them lead productive lives.

Right after a cold snap, the shelter’s population spikes. This time, there were more women and children eating at the kitchen than I’ve seen in the past. How much action do you think it can generate when word spreads that a couple of boxes of kids’ clothing have just arrived in the lobby?

One of the men who helped us cart all of the stuff into the building – a shelter client – was looking at the books we were leaving.

“That’s a lot of books,” he said. And then he looked up at me: “You know, most people think we can’t read.”

One of the images I took away was the sight of a middle-aged man combing through the books as we shuttled items into the lobby, putting a couple of books into a plastic bag and then walking off with a big smile. His haul: well-worn copies of “On Zen Practice” and “The Three Pillars of Zen”. I wish him well.

I’m not writing this to brag about our charitable donations. In fact, it’s a bit embarrasing that I originally considered we were dumping junk on the Salvation Army. It’s humbling that I required a reminder about all of the people in need right here in my own neighborhood. And it’s shameful that so many people can’t even surrender their ‘junk’ in order to help out others in need.

So. The next time you get the opportunity, donate or volunteer. Don’t just stuff your hands in your pockets and pass by the rackety bell-ringers. Do a little bit of good this holiday season every chance you get, because there are plenty of people in need.

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians)

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