In the blink of an eye, another Rhode Island summer is now a distant memory and the winds of winter are upon us. With Thanksgiving this week and the major traditional celebrations of Hanukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa just on the horizon, it is a time to reflect upon what blessings we enjoy and make ourselves aware that many others are not as fortunate, especially during the cold months which we so naturally associate with celebration.
In Warwick there is no shortage of programs to become involved with in order to help others less fortunate than yourself, or those who are unable to celebrate the holidays at home with their loved ones.
Most recently, as part of the 15th annual Operation Holiday Cheer, hundreds of volunteers dedicated their Saturday and Sunday mornings to dropping off, sorting and boxing over 550 holiday care packages for active duty service members of all branches of the United States military. These packages each weigh about 35 pounds, amounting to nearly 10 tons of food items, reading materials, games and various comforts of home.
Westbay Community Action continues to provide necessary food pantry services to the hungry, as well as assembling their own holiday gift baskets to distribute to those most in need. Neighbors Helping Neighbors, in accordance with local churches, is helping ensure that nearly 600 Warwick families receive the assistance necessary to not go hungry.
Many individual food and toy drives, started by your neighbors out of the kindness of their hearts, epitomize the giving spirit of the holidays and amount to a sizable pile of donated food, clothes and toys for those unable to afford much more than the most basic of essentials to survive. These drives are helped by the volunteer efforts of students and complete strangers, joining together for a benevolent cause simply because it’s the right thing to do.
Although kindness and generosity is not hard to find when you look, it is still alarming at the level of need that persists despite the tremendous wealth and prosperity of the country as a whole. According to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, 57,000 people rely on the food bank each month – a dramatic increase of 24,000 from 10 years ago. That is a 72 percent increase in people relying on food assistance each month.
Some of that can be blamed on a flawed and still newly-implemented UHIP system, which overhauled the old system for a new electronic database that is rife with errors and has made people lose out on benefits they rightly qualify for. However one would be remiss to not factor in a philosophical cause as well.
Income inequality is increasing in the country, as the top 1 percent of earners in the country continue to grow wealth exponentially while wages for the middle and lower classes stagnate. Meanwhile the value of the dollar slowly diminishes amidst rising inflation and housing costs. At the same time, Republicans in the House of Representatives are proposing budgetary cuts that would slash spending on programs like SNAP by $160 billion over the next 10 years.
The scary question that must be asked given these facts is as such: Are we to be a nation that eventually simply accepts a reality where a certain percentage of its population will always live on squalor, and those masses must prove through pay stubs and dozens of documents, time and time again, that they are worthy of whatever scraps the federal government decides they will give away?
Or can we become something greater? Something better that is embodied in every holiday gift basket, and in every small toy drive that brings a smile to even just a dozen children on Christmas morning.
Those who consider themselves followers of, or even those who simply appreciate, the teachings of Jesus Christ should remember their own scripture, which directs them not to give charitably because of a sense of obligation or because you will be heralded for the behavior – but to give joyfully, and for the betterment of man’s equality. The Lord – whomever or whatever you consider the Lord to be – will take notice.