‘We Need the Poor at Christmas’

by on December 19, 2022 · 2 comments

in Economy, Homelessness, Ocean Beach

Let’s Hear It for the Team

By Joni Halpern

There is a little team of five of us — two in San Diego, one in Palm Springs, and two in Washington State – who work hard all year long to keep a roof over the heads of one small local family headed by a single, disabled parent.  It’s a struggle, but our team has triumphed over homelessness that has threatened this low-income family for many years.

Occasionally over the years, our efforts have faltered, as in this year when rents have climbed so high, and everyone’s costs have  increased so much that our treasury for assistance has been rendered insufficient — temporarily at least.

With our friend now residing for a short time with relatives while she tries to find another place, she lives the life of sofa-surfers who must make themselves scarce in other people’s homes, who must whisper instead of speak aloud, who must be careful not to be a burden to those who have taken them in – people who often are struggling themselves.

Meanwhile, our team is trying to gather up enough money to cover the enormous outlay that will be required for the first month’s rent and a security deposit – if our friend is lucky enough to find another place to live.  Even renting a room and a bathroom is exorbitant in San Diego County.

Throughout the years, as our team has helped month after month, our friend has had other struggles to contend with.  It has been difficult for her to find enough food, to pay for prescriptions, to buy a bus pass, to pay for household cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products.

Members of our team have rummaged through our refrigerators, freezers and cupboards at times when our friend was turned away at churches and other sources of emergency food because supplies were exhausted, or the facility was not able to stock foods appropriate for a person of ill health.

Nevertheless, amidst our total efforts of team and friend, we took a certain pride in the fact that, with only a few gaps in time, we have vanquished for years the vulturous, soul-killing beast of homeless for one family.

I use the word “friend” to describe the parent we helped.  But in truth, three members of our team really never knew her.  It was just that her plight was emblematic of a gross injustice that is happening all over this country, where the price of basic survival is breaking the grip of so many Americans who have been clinging to housing, food, and health with raw and aching fingers.  Every day, another umpteen people slip off the cliff into the shredded safety net of our broken taxpayer priorities.

It is so strange to be days away from Christmas, with Hanukkah upon us, Kwanzaa about to start, Ramadan a few months away, and all we can think of, if we think of it at all, is to donate a toy or a canned good, or a once-a-year gift to the nonprofit of our choice.  As if another can of garbanzo beans given to the local donation bin will entitle us to sit guiltlessly at a holiday table laden with delectable food and thank God for blessing us, above all others who have absolutely no idea where their next meal is coming from.

In many cases, we ask to see pictures of the poor to whom we gave.  We want to see their grateful faces so we can see the good we have done.  We often prefer to buy them gift items ourselves, lest they squander our hard-earned money on nail polish, beer or drugs.

If we do not give money or objects to the poor, we sometimes choose to spend a few hours dishing out dinner at a soup kitchen, one day a year.  It helps tune up our sense of appreciation that God has blessed us in ways he has not chosen to bless the poor, for reasons our culture suggests have something to do with flaws in their character.

We need the poor at Christmas, for they give us permission to engage in the excesses of material exchange as a proxy for enduring love.  Not love for the child born long ago, whose example of decency and goodness cost him his life.  But affection for all the people whom we accept into our tribe, our circle, our families, or for those we think would hold us in lesser esteem if they did not receive a testimonial of our good will.

If there were no poor people to help at Christmas, it would be hard for us to justify the tremendous expenditures we make to celebrate the birth of someone who went to his death with no greater assets than those possessed in the limitless abundance of his soul.  Or so his story goes.

Perhaps this momentary holiday attention to the poor is simply a symptom of the ever shorter attention span of the American people.  Perhaps it is a sign of our emotional exhaustion.  Perhaps it is a consequence of judgments we have made about why people are poor.

But when the Christmas wrappings have been crushed and thrown away, when the kids without stable housing or adequate food have discovered they have no place to store their donated toys, when they are still hungry, when their parents cannot afford to launder the newly donated clothing, when the brand new pots and pans a family received in transitional housing must be put in storage while the hunt for permanent housing continues, it becomes apparent that a once-a-year charitable effort is not enough to meet our responsibilities to whatever source of goodness informs our decency toward the poor.

This is when I am grateful for my team.  Their love endures.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Torri December 19, 2022 at 7:06 pm

I am so blessed and thank you for reminding me of this. How sad that we must hear of someone less fortunate to make us appreciate our blessings. Do you have a go-fund me page so we can help if able to do so?


Joni Halpern December 21, 2022 at 8:12 am

How very kind of you to acknowledge the sentiments of my writing and to offer to donate. We do not have a go-fund me page. But you are most kind to raise the issue of others helping. Perhaps there will be other “teams” that form for other families in other communities. May every blessing be yours this Christmas and in the New Year.


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: