During the winter holidays, many people get caught up in the spirit of the season and want to help others. Many send money to whatever charity plays the most heart-wrenching commercial, or has some personal relevance to their lives. Others will take the next step, actually giving their own time to helping those less fortunate. A lot of good is done, but after the trees are taken down and the menorahs are put away for the year, many seem to forget that poverty continues every day.
At the beginning of 2013, a one day survey found that there were 610,042 homeless people in the US. While that is a near 4 percent drop from 2012, it clearly shows that many still suffer every day. The goodwill that many find so easy to share during December seems to evaporate the rest of the year. By July, the number of homeless had risen back to approximately 1,750,000. Some perhaps think that the poor only need aid during the holidays, helping to brighten things up for families in what can be an emotionally trying time. The daily reality is much grimmer.
According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 44% of homeless people perform paid work. Whatever the circumstances, many of the working poor don’t have the simple luxury of a place to call home. This isn’t just individuals. 41% of homeless people are in some form of family group, including children who realistically cannot even fend for themselves. If you have ever watched The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith, then you have seen what this can look like. Sadly, most stories of poverty don’t play out that well.
Regardless of numerous federal programs that try to use money to solve these problems, it is real people within communities that must administer the aid the poor need. Most of the organizations that provide these services operate on a budget of less than 20% of their income, and that small amount is simply not enough to hire adequate people to do what needs done. Volunteers are essential to reaching those who need assistance. Food needs organizing at food banks, clothing needs sorting at thrift stores and homeless shelters, and meals need buying, preparing and serving at “soup kitchens”. Money alone will not accomplish this.
My family volunteers at a local homeless shelter, serving meals to those that might otherwise not have them. Every time we are there, the staff are very grateful, saying that it helps alleviate the chaos they experience due to low numbers of workers. We don’t really do that much, but it seems to help the feeding of a couple hundred people each meal go smoothly.
We started this endeavor as a way to help our sons appreciate how good they have it. We continue because it seems to be a tangible way to help our community where we live. The faces of people as they thank us for serving shows that, even though it seems small to us, the effort we put forth means much to them.
The celebrating of 2013 is about over, and a new year is coming, full of potential. Hopefully, some of that will be used to help those most in need.