Every year I grapple with the appropriateness of Our Daily Bread’s very popular Holiday Assistance Program.
Is it really doing anyone any good providing a local child a Pillow Pet or toy firetruck this holiday? What the children of our clients really need is quality day care/preschool, consistently nutritious food, and decent paying jobs for their parents, among other things.
Should I care that the Holiday Program perpetuates consumerism? Six years ago, we launched our Financial Literacy Program, which today teaches over 500 people a year how to budget their limited incomes and to withstand the bombardment of advertising and unabashed consumerism. They are barely making ends meet and here we are sending them a contradictory message that “stuff” is needed during the holidays.
So how do I reconcile this conflict?
First, learning a lesson from our Financial Literacy classes, we encourage our donors to stay within a modest donation budget, tempering their well-meaning holiday excessiveness.
Second, we encourage donors to spend more on food than on gifts. Food provides nutrition, obviously, but a meal also brings people together. Bringing loved ones together to experience a holiday meal strengthens their bond. Feeling this bond causes a ripple effect which plays out in their everyday lives. Kids who feel connected do better in school. Parents who feel connected to their community persevere to stay on course. Our communities thrive when we all feel connected.
Third, and most importantly, the secret beauty of the Holiday Assistance Program is the transformation of the giver. Our hope is that when donors “sponsor a family” for the holidays, they serendipitously see what a family in need looks like. If ODB facilitates a human connection that then motivates people to give back year-round, then the Holiday Program promises exponential generosity and a stronger community. Better yet, when persons of influence are sensitized, perhaps they will make a connection that raising the cost of their business products by pennies is worth it to provide adequate wages and benefits to their employees. Perhaps when they see the innocence in the eyes of the child clutching the Pillow Pet who deserves the same care as their own kids, they will make the connection that subsidizing quality day care or head start programs should be a priority. Perhaps investing in affordable housing is a good idea, too.
The beauty of the holiday assistance program is that it reminds us that we are more alike than different and that we need to live according to our values year-round. People are more important than stuff or our maintaining maximum profits.
What’s more beautiful is that when a struggling parent receives their prepared meal or food gift card, it gives them hope. It gives them hope that they are not alone in their struggles, and we, their community, care about their plight.
So, Our Daily Bread will continue to match neighbors with neighbors for the Holiday Program. It is our mission to empower the community to support our neighbors in need. Our hope is that the act of giving during the holidays transforms us all, prompting us to live out our generosity every day.
Lisa Whetzel is the executive director of Our Daily Bread, Inc. (www.ODBFairfax.org) in Fairfax.