I’ve never been homeless, I’ve never been jobless, and I’ve never been hungry. It’s hard for me to imagine the desperation people must feel when they’re suddenly unemployed for reasons of illness, drawdowns, layoffs, etc. I imagine that leads to hunger and sometimes homelessness. I’m not talking about the people who choose homelessness, and there are those – homeless because they won’t adhere to the rules at a shelter, or because the shelter won’t let them drink alcohol.
For people who live paycheck to paycheck (I mean seriously – not people like me who go to movies, buy a six-pack, go out to eat, buy a Starbuck’s, or go for a weekend to the beach, because I had $200 left over after I paid my bills, so decided to blow it instead of putting it back for a rainy day, and have to wait til next paycheck to buy daffodil bulbs), even buying groceries can be a challenge.
We talk about Senior Citizens who might have to choose between buying food or buying medicine. But we do take some basic care of our elderly. They have Medicare. They have Social Security. They have special programs through Alabama Power for electricity. Some of them have some sort of a retirement income, and some of them have children that help them if needed.
For children whose parents are “disadvantaged” or outright indigent, there are food stamps, Medicaid, Public Health resources for formula and diapers, and low-cost or free housing with utilities, because we take some basic care of our little children.
Who we DON’T take any basic care of is the adult who has a minimum income, or who is situationally unemployed, especially if that adult doesn’t have young children, or if their children are teenagers or older. It is THOSE people with whom I’ve been confronted this Christmas.
This year, I’ve been hit over the head with Toys for Tots. Every military organization to which I belong has demanded a toy this season. So far I’m up to 5 toys donated. But who gets those toys? The Toys for Tots Distribution Center is a madhouse every year. It looks like about half the “toys” are stuffed animals. The parents who “shop” there act like it’s Walmart on Black Friday. That’s fine, and I’m not knocking the program. It’s a GREAT program. But when you say, “Toys for Tots”, it’s a nationally very well-known annual charity, headed by the Marine Corps, and those are buzz words that automatically open your heart and your wallet, even though you do not know a single child who will benefit from your donation.
But what if I said there is a family in Bessemer, and the husband was out of work for 3 months due to surgery on a rotator cuff (that he did have insurance to cover, but not 3 months of paid time off to recover). During that time, he fell behind on his house payment, the power bill, the water bill, his car payment, lost his insurance, and was barely able to buy groceries for his wife and 3 grandchildren he is raising. His wife is disabled and can’t work, but she does get a small disability check that at least got them fed for 3 months.
Now here it is Christmas time. He is back at work, so has insurance again, and is working to catch up on all his bills. There is no money for the children for Christmas, and his 7 and 12-year-old grandsons each want a bicycle. That’s all they want. What do you think the odds are that, even if they qualified for Toys for Tots, that both of them would score a bike? When Grandma explained to them that Santa’s budget isn’t going to stretch that far, they understood. One now wants an art kit, and the other wants a book about animals.
That’s just one family. I know of 2 other similar stories this year. So, when I mentioned this family to a couple of acquaintances, both of them jumped right up with an offer to help. One gave me $10, and the other gave me $20 to help buy presents for the children. Fine. So I asked one of them, “How much was that check you wrote to Toys for Tots?” I’m just gonna TELL you outright. Her check was for $200.
What is it about us that lets us donate $200 to someone we don’t know from Adam’s housecat, just because of familiarity of the charity, but squeezes our butt cheeks to eek out $10 to a KNOWN desperate situation?
What about this? What if we helped Granddaddy with a $50 gas card, so he can get to work? What if we gave Grandma a $100 Publix or Walmart card? Wanna know what my other acquaintance had to say about that? You won’t believe it. Well, maybe you will. She said, “No. Not a gift card. They can buy beer or wine at Walmart, or at Publix. And he’s working. He can buy his own gas.”
I was speechless at that. He can also buy potato chips and lobster tails at Publix. Does she HONESTLY believe that a man who has barely fed his family and who is drowning in everyday expenses, and whose children are going to be basically toyless on Christmas, would take a gift card and squander the money on beer and steak?
Before those of you who have a big heart start calling or emailing me, I will tell you that we have obtained bikes, trikes, dolls, helmets, and everything else on these 3 family’s children’s lists. We have gotten Publix, Winn Dixie, Walmart, and Shell Oil gas cards for each family, AND $50 per child for the mammas/grandmas to buy clothes or shoes for them. (I didn't have to hit up every person I know for $10, either. This all came from generous people who have the money and can afford to shell out $500 at a whack, but who also understand how someone can fall on hard and desperate times because of the bad luck of the draw.)
And finally, thanks to Al Castillo and Alabama Veteran, we have a Santa who will personally deliver everything to their respective homes on Christmas Eve, on his way to the wilderness of Cullman County to deliver toys to children the Boys/Girls Club up there has identified as needing them.
Now I have to figure out how to explain why a reindeer-less Santa didn’t wait until they were asleep to deliver toys.