I love the holidays. I adore the lights, the glitter and that feeling of excitement humming through the air. And, most especially, I thrive on the feeling of goodwill as the community comes together to help our own.
Most of us stay unaware of what it is like to be poor. We cannot imagine what it is like to work all day, every day and still not have enough money to pay rent and buy food. We cannot know how it feels to have to tell your child there is no supper tonight.
We cannot fathom what it is like to be in pain and have no money to see a doctor, or even worse to have a sick child, spouse or parent and not be able to afford medicine. We cannot imagine the fear, the hopelessness.
It’s beyond our ability to relate to the elderly who have no family and no one to care. We do not know how it feels to be miserably lonely, hungry and scared.
At a recent Pinellas County Commissioners meeting, an official talked about visiting a family living in deplorable conditions. There were eight or nine people living in a one-bedroom home. The only light was from a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. The cook stove was the only source of heat.
I remember going to places like that as a child in a small town in Arkansas. My mother is what some would call a professional do-gooder. My brother and I often thought we might starve as we waited for her to come home to feed us. We complained that she cared more for “those people” than her own family. Yes, we were spoiled.
During the holidays, she took us with her to visit those less fortunate. We took boxes of food and gifts of toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, toilet paper and the like. We took socks, underwear and coats. My brother and I did not think the gifts were worthy Christmas presents. My mom told us we would think different if we did not have those things at home.
I remember hating to go into some houses because they smelled. When I complained, I was told to be kind. They are doing their best, my mother said. The next year, our boxes included cleaning products and bleach.
My church group went to the nursing homes at Christmas as well. We sang carols and visited with the residents. In the beginning, I did not like it. Those old folks were weird and they smelled funny, too. My mom ignored my complaints. She said, “Suzette, this makes them happy for just a little while. It will not hurt you to help.”
Some of them would cry. They were so grateful that someone cared. They would say thank you over and over. Many begged us to come again. I did not understand that; for some our visit would be the only thing that made the holiday different from any other day.
The needs of others are not something most of us consider as we go about our day-to-day business. But the need is there. People just like you and me are struggling. The only thing that separates us is a paycheck, decent health and having someone to care.
More families are homeless in Pinellas than ever before. Children are living in their cars with their parent(s). There will be no Christmas tree or presents or holiday meal – unless it comes from you or me.
The holidays truly are magical. Amidst the glitter and lights and that feeling of excitement is a huge effort to reach out to those in need. Businesses, organizations, churches, charities and individuals are collecting food, clothing and toys with the goal to make the holidays a little bit brighter for us all. Law enforcement agencies, fire departments and other government agencies go beyond their normal jobs of public servants to do as much as they can.
Imagine if we could take the spirit of Christmas and apply it every day to helping those in need without judgment of their circumstance.
Could we stop homelessness? Could we end hunger? Could we prevent unnecessary pain and suffering? Could we create hope?
I love the magic of Christmas. Here’s to peace on earth and goodwill to us all.
Suzette Porter is Tampa Bay Newspapers online editor and Internet services manager. Write her at webmaster@TBNweekly.com.