“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
When the gentlemen ask Mr. Scrooge what donation they can put him down for, he replies “Nothing!” and suggests the poor take themselves to the workhouses or better yet, die and decrease the surplus population.
Charles Dickens published The Christmas Carol in 1843, a time in Victorian England of a hugely increased population and a resulting increase in the unemployed. Large numbers of both skilled and unskilled people were looking for work, so wages were low, barely above subsistence level. If work dried up, or was seasonal, men were laid off, and because they had hardly enough to live on when they were in work, they had no savings to fall back on. There were children living with their families in these desperate situations but there were also numerous, homeless, destitute children living on the streets of London. (From “Poverty and Families in the Victorian Era” Barbara Daniels, 2003).
That was over a century and a half ago and while we no longer have workhouses or debtor’s prisons, some things haven’t changed. Back then the view of the well off was that “God loved those who helped themselves, while burdens on the public were weak and sinful.” Never mind that then, as now, there were far more applicants than jobs. Regrettably a similar attitude affects some people today.
Luckily back then, as now, there was a push towards personal philanthropy, particularly at Christmas. As Bob Cratchet said in reply to his uncle Srcooge’s Bah Humbug,
“… I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
Christmas is traditionally a time of charity. This year some charities are struggling to meet the increased need, and some have even been robbed (see these news stories: Thieves take safe from Christmas charity; Thieves steal money, food, from Orlando Community Food Center; and $15k in Toys stolen from Mass charity; among others). At the same time some wonderful individuals have stepped up to the plate – reaching out to those in need. Take for instance the Kentucky man who ran four miles in his Speedo to raise money for a family that lost their 6-year old daughter, most possessions and their home in a fire. Donation elves followed him with buckets and $6,500 was raised for the family. And in Indiana, Santa delivered 70 bikes as early Christmas presents to needy children who might have gone without gifts. Then there’s the young designer who turned her talents to designing a coat for the homeless that can be turned into a sleeping bag! She didn’t stop there – she started the Empowerment Plan – and is hiring the homeless to make the coats, which are then given away for free. How cool!
And my personal favorite – a cat missing for 4 years, delivered home safe and sound on Christmas eve! By the way- our cat is also home for Christmas, returned by our friends as she did not get along with their cats. I am enjoying having her back with us while at the same time missing my middle daughter especially at the holidays!
We have been both a recipient of Christmas charity, and a benefactor to others this year. The children were invited to a Christmas party complete with Santa and a Piñata and small gifts. The school secretary gave my son and daughter new scooters. Packages have arrived at our mailbox, some anonymous, some with warm wishes from friends. And today a very large box of canned food was delivered!
Our cup runneth over and we are sharing with those less fortunate. We drop something in at every Salvation Army Kettle (those kettles have been around for over 100 years – started by Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee in 1891) and have prepared and delivered over 2 dozen gallon sized zip lock bags filled with new socks, toothbrushes, and food to the homeless. And yesterday I was lucky enough to be placed in line at the grocery store behind a young woman who was buying a healthy Christmas dinner for her family – ham, veggies, rolls and milk. Her debit card was refused and with obvious reluctance she put the ham back and ran the card again. It was refused a second time and, with tears in her eyes, she pushed the cart away and turned to leave. My bills are paid. The kids have gifts to open tomorrow and our pantry is full. I had a little bit of ‘extra’ money. So I paid her bill and tomorrow two families will enjoy a Christmas dinner.
Tonight after dark we will drive to a local neighborhood that traditionally ‘over decorates’ and enjoy the lights and music before heading home to hang stockings and head to bed.
Thanks to all my readers who offer support of all kinds while we struggle to regain our footing. May you all enjoy the kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time of Christmas! May the new year bring us all prosperity!