There is a photo by a French photographer (his name eludes me at this time), taken in Paris, 1944. It is a photo of a thin Santa in a ragged red suit passing out leeks to the children gathered around. There is a heartwarming shine on the faces of the children as they reach out and grab the leeks. There are no toys in that sac for them to collect, no games, dolls, or whistles. Certainly no over-hyped Cabbage Patch Kids, dancing Elmos or Playstations. These children have been given a far greater gift, something that they can rush home and present to their mother and share with their families.... fresh food. Imagine seeing the leaf green tops and plump bulb of a leek after enduring months of food shortages and rations. What a delight. What a happy Christmas that must have been for those fortunate families.
It is easy at this time of year to get caught up in the commercialism of the season, inundated as we are with newspaper inserts proclaiming this or that as the next big, must have toy. Slick television ads showing us decadent little cakes, glossy skinned cooked turkeys, and delicious assortments of mini-foods easily ignored the rest of the year, now tempting us over to the side of gluttony. Rarely though do we stop to remember that there are many, many children who will go without that must-have toy, or any toy, and instead wonder why Santa forgot about them. Countless others will go without juicy turkey legs, candy canes, and shortbreads, they will just go hungry.
In this time of economic uncertainty, when the entire world teeters on the brink of deep recessions, as companies fold, and unemployment lines lengthen, and everyone wonders, what if it is me next, this is the perfect opportunity to practice going with a little less, and sharing a little more.
This is not something I usually discuss, but I am opening my vault here to illustrate a point. My dad died a few months before my 9th Christmas. That Christmas, a hamper arrived at our door, brought by friends and neighbours. It contained Christmas toys for myself and my three siblings, and a small something for my Mom. It also contained all the foods needed for a proper Christmas feast. The people bearing these gifts didn't do this because we suddenly found ourselves without, they did it because in a small community, that is what people do. People look out for one another. Not because they are looking for anything in return, but because that is what it is to be a neighbour, a friend, to be human.
There was nothing that could be done that year to lessen the pain of losing a father, or a husband, but this act of kindness did mean a great deal to us - even if it meant just reducing the stress on my mother of having to go out and do these tasks herself, while grieving and keeping it together for her four kids. Having these unexpected gifts and treats did bring a smile to our young faces, and a warm feeling knowing that there were people who cared, and who were thinking about us as we dealt with a tragedy too great for our ages.
I remember this kindness every year, and I pay back by donating toys, food and healthcare products to local drives. If you find that your wallet is emptier than normal this year, remember that many of these organizations are just as happy to have you donate in time.
If you eschew the concept of charitable giving, believing that people get what they deserve, think again. Most people aren't looking for free handouts, and most aren't too lazy work. Sometimes people just need a little help, for any number of reasons. And now, especially, we all need to remember that next Christmas season, it could be any one of us finding ourselves down on our luck.
Food Banks Canada