Over the last few days, we have seen news stories about churches, social service agencies, and food pantries giving turkeys, bread stuffing mix, and cans of cranberry sauce to people who live in poverty. That’s one of the typical “feel good” stories of the holiday season. We’ll see similar media reports at Christmastime. The media does the predictable. It helps middle-class folks feel better about themselves and makes people who live in poverty look needy and grateful. We see these narratives year after year.
And by “people who live in poverty,” I am not just referring to people who are in financial poverty. There are folks who live in poverty of spirit–who are lonely or ill or alienated.
It’s good that people who are in need receive provisions so they can enjoy and celebrate holidays. I affirm it completely. I also think it’s really important for their kids and neighbors to see that other people care. These news stories are a good reminder to all of us about taking care of one another.
But… most of these folks are living in poverty every day. Every day. When the cameras go away, they still have to make hard decisions: money for gas to drive to work (or for public transit) or food and medicines for my kids? How do I pay my rent? How do I get to the doctor?
A turkey once or twice a year is great, but if I were in their position, I might ask: How do I feed my family every day? How do I keep my home? If I were among those lonely or marginalized, would I have nothing to look forward to but a dinner invitation once or twice a year? How would I fill the lonely, empty days between?
Congratulating ourselves for occasional attentiveness does not help those who are in need or are suffering all year round. We can do better.
I thank God for all of the blessings of this life, and I ask God to keep me mindful of the needs of others. But I think we all need to look at how we, our congregations, and communities can make sure all people have enough–not because we think it will make us virtuous or righteous, but because we are so grateful for every blessing in our lives. We are thankful and we live with open hands. Because we are walking in the Jesus way.
Recently, a homeless man (a vagrant, as some would say) helped me carry my very heavy backpack down three flights of stairs at the train station. He saw me struggling and jumped in to assist. He didn’t have much in the way of teeth, he smelled bad, and at first I was afraid of him. At the bottom of the steps, I offered to give him a little cash to thank him, and he refused it. “I didn’t do it for money,” he said. “I did it because it was the decent thing to do.”
I was so grateful, I nearly cried. Let’s live thanksgiving all year.
How does your congregation help those who are living in poverty? How can you make a difference every day?
Kate Elliott is editor of Gather magazine.
Photo by Pink Sherbert Photography. Used with permission.