- by Stacey Prince
Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas all have traditions of gift giving and receiving. For many this time of year is a time of plenty, abundance, family, gratitude, and generosity. Yet for so many it is also a time of shortage, scarcity, anxiety, starvation, fear, and war. It can be difficult to reconcile the celebratory tone of the season with the global suffering we see on the news every day. We don’t even have to look around the globe to see this level of suffering. A recent extensive study showed that approximately 1 in 6 Americans experience "very low food security" (defined as reducing the amount they ate and/or disrupting their food patterns throughout the year) : in other words, they go hungry.
Even closer to home, last week I finally got myself to read the list of cuts that the legislators and Governor Gregoire just enacted in order to reduce Washington State's huge (over $1 billion) budget deficit. Here is just a partial list of some of the cuts that were made:
It is plain to see from this list that the cuts are largely impacting those already in greatest need, thereby further increasing the resources gap, the distance between those affluent individuals at the top of the wealth pyramid and the rest. Meanwhile, it appears that Bush era tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich may be extended rather than expiring at the end of this year. Though this has been framed by the media as a “compromise,” a trade-off for extension of unemployment benefits, the fact remains that the Bush era tax cuts further drive the wedge between the affluent and the poor.
So how can you help? This grim picture doesn't mean that any of us should stop celebrating our chosen holidays, or feel guilty if we are fortunate enough to be able to buy gifts for our loved ones. But sharing even just a little bit of the relative abundance that many of us enjoy can go a long way toward helping individuals with less. Some of you give time or donate already, some of you cannot afford to at this time, and some of you give to your own family or friends. For those of you who have resources and would like to consider giving, here are some of my thoughts.
A donation of food or money to food banks and charities can make a huge difference. Just one dollar can provide three meals to a person in need. You can read the "Call to Action" below for some local ideas. Working at a food bank over the holidays is even better--in addition to helping to provide needed sustenance, this provides human contact, compassion, and connection, and for the volunteer, helps put a face to the needy, homeless and poor who are so often invisiblized. I know several families who take their kids to food banks or volunteer with organizations that collect and wrap presents for children staying at homeless shelters so their own children will learn that not everyone has as much richness in their lives and will have perspective some on those gifts piled up at home. A $25 donation to the Haiti Sustainable Development Foundation will provide two weeks of clean drinking water to a family in Haiti, so many of whom were left homeless and more impoverished than ever after the devastating earthquake earlier this year. All you have to do is go on the internet to find ways that you can help. By donating your time, money, food, clothes you are no longer wearing, you can bring greater comfort and security, fill a hungry stomach, or bring joy to someone this holiday season.
Professionally, by providing pro bono or low fee services you can offer therapeutic assistance in whatever modality you work in to the uninsured or those who for other reasons cannot afford healthcare and mental healthcare. If you are interested in providing pro bono psychotherapy services you can contact the Fremont Community Therapy Clinic and get on their list of pro bono service providers for their 4 month waitlist, or call Washington State Psychological Association and inquire about their pro bono program. At TJP we are looking for ways to decrease the resource gap throughout the year, and will be talking about some of those ideas at our February retreat; if you have ideas for us please let us know.