“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
With Christmas just two weeks away, most of us will be rushing about — either to the stores and malls or on-line — to do our last-minute holiday shopping in hopes of finding that “perfect” gift for our family members and loved ones.
Although the vast majority of Americans have much to be thankful for because of a strong economy and a record-low unemployment rate, there are many of our fellow citizens who have not shared in the general prosperity.
Statistics tell us that millions of Americans of all ages, including those in our own communities, are struggling financially, often through no fault of their own, thanks to a combination of low-wage jobs and a strong real estate market that ironically has made apartments (let along buying a home) unaffordable.
Far too many of our fellow citizens, including children, live either in shelters or in similar temporary housing arrangements — or on the streets — because the reality of our economy has left them out in the cold — literally — thanks to high rents and soaring land values.
This dichotomy is most evident and acute in the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Despite the vast wealth in those metropolitan areas, thousands of homeless persons, including many who have full-time jobs, are living in tent and cardboard “neighborhoods” on city sidewalks.
The homeless always have been among us, but the scope and depth of the problem is far beyond anything that has been experienced in our lifetime. The vast discrepancy between the enormous wealth enjoyed by some Americans and the abject poverty being endured by others is similar to what we read about in major urban centers in South America and India — but it now is happening right here in the U.S.A.
For these millions of Americans, the holiday season brings no joy. Indeed, the announcement by the Trump administration last week that there will be a cutback in the Food Stamps program (known as SNAP) that threatens to leave millions of Americans (including many children) hungry is a real-life Grinch story, but without a happy ending.
Psychologists tell us that the Biblical directive, that we should give to those who are less fortunate, actually is the best gift that we can give to ourselves. Giving to others activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating the so-called “warm glow” effect.
Whether it be donations to local food banks and toy programs, or even as simple as dropping a few dollars in the buckets of the Salvation Army Santas, there are multiple opportunities in the next two weeks for each and every one of us to make the holidays brighter for those who are less fortunate.