Giving for all seasons

Thanksgiving 2015 is history, and we’re confident folks at the Santa Barbara County Foodbank are thankful that local citizens came through, again, to donate food for the holiday.

The Foodbank takes what is contributed and distributes it to more than 300 charitable agencies and organizations countywide. What the donations do is ensure, for a short time at least, that many of the thousands of Central Coast families living with food insecurity can put a meal on the table.

That takes care of Thanksgiving, but there’s still a lot to be done. The Christmas season is in full swing, and for many families the conflict goes something like this — toys and clothes for the kids, or food for the family? For those who’ve never faced such a dilemma, it’s harder than you can imagine.

We had occasion to drop off some food donations before Thanksgiving, and were a little surprised to see a line snaking out the door and onto the sidewalk in front of a distribution facility. People, waiting patiently for their turn to score some food.

We were also surprised that the parking lot was full of late-model vehicles, including a couple of luxury cars. We were curious, so as a women was putting sacks of donated groceries into the trunk of her Mercedes, we had to ask.

“Pardon me, ma’am, and I don’t mean to pry, but how can you afford a $70,000 car, but not food?” We tried hard not to come off as too confrontational. She didn’t blink an eye when responding.

“We lost everything, and they’re probably coming to get this car as soon as they can after the holidays.”

We thanked her and moved away. Judging from the crush of people awaiting charity, and the cars still arriving in the parking area, it was easy to guess her story was one that would be repeated, often, if others were asked.

It made us wonder about living in a land that offers so much, and in which wealth is an attainable goal — or at least the ability to provide the necessities for a family — yet we have so many who have so little.

Is something wrong in our society? Is our culture pointed in the wrong direction, and hopelessly superficial and self-serving?

It also made us wonder how a federal government could find itself $18 trillion in debt, paying for things government provides — and still have an ancient and failing infrastructure, and 50 million or so citizens going without food and other necessities.

While dwelling on those contradictions, we also wondered if the emphasis we place on the Christmas holiday spending orgy isn’t missing the point of the season. We know we are a nation fueled by commerce, and our economy’s success or failure often depends on how stores fare at the cash register between Black Friday and Christmas. We understand the concept, fully — we just wonder if that’s what this nation is all about.

Those are ponderous, troubling thoughts, problems whose solutions are difficult to identify and resolve. One thing we know for certain is there are thousands of hungry people, many of them children, in Santa Barbara County, and the Foodbank and its network of agencies do a marvelous job of helping put food on tables.

You make the choice between contributing food or toys for the Christmas season. Whatever you decide to do, we can guarantee only one thing — you will feel great when you give. In fact, it’s the best gift we can give ourselves this time of year.

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