’Tis the season of giving. Mounds of colorful gifts under trees and beside fireplaces form as the scent of pine and nutmeg fills the air. Ugly sweater contests are the mainstay of seemingly every holiday party that also involve nut-covered cheese logs and spiced apple cider in red and green mugs.
That’s the Norman Rockwell version of the holidays but it’s a dream for too many of our neighbors. They don’t have presents. They don’t have sweaters of any style to shield themselves from the coat. They “couch surf” between spare rooms courtesy of family and friends as a way to avoid another night of sleeping in their car and struggling both with money issues and the demands of their children trying to live “normal lives.”
People more fortunate give much to food bank donation sites this time of year to celebrate and share their bounty with others. The trouble is that there are far too many “others.” Even with a recovering economy that has created more jobs, wages don’t often allow ends to meet. Known as the working poor, people often work full jobs and overtime only to find their paychecks don’t cover the rising costs of living – school clothes, heating bills, rent, medical bills and car repairs. Food often is the only flexible budget line.
Emergency Food Network, a wholesale distributor of food to more than 60 food banks around Puget Sound, handles more than 15.1 million pounds of food annually. That translates to about 1.3 million visits to food banks that sent the needy on their way with enough food for 11 meals. It does this by leveraging bulk buys of discounted food, donations and a streamline administration that yields $12 of food for every $1 donated.
Its recent Empty Bowls event, an annual gathering where bowls created by artists are sold to fund food purchases, raised $26,000, the equivalent of 161,379 meals. That helps the effort through the holiday season, but people are in need every day, particularly during the summer since family budgets are stretched without the aid of food programs at schools and the added expense of day care during the summer school break.
Tables piled with clothing, blankets and toiletries line a graveled parking lot below the Tacoma Dome each month. The tables are cleared in a matter of hours as the snaking line of those in need file through to get donated supplies to ward against the winter chill. The Puyallup Tribe organized the donation of items as well as their distribution. The next event will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 20 at the lot at South ‘E’ and 26th streets. Donations can be dropped off at the Puyallup Tribal Administration Building, 3009 Portland Ave., from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. any weekday.
Donated food and clothing help adults and children get through another chilly night without empty stomachs or the shivers, while other efforts try to solve homelessness with shelter and social services. Phoenix Housing Network serves low-income families in Pierce County. The program provides a place to live for families experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness, while helping to build skills that maximize family stability and self-sufficiency in order to prevent future homelessness. Giving to Phoenix House or any of the programs above makes the perfect way to honor the season now and to provide for those in need all year round.