I began this column exactly 96 days before Christmas. Halloween was still 29 days away, yet retailers had more Santa Claus-related items than goblin-and-ghoul paraphernalia on store shelves.
Every year, we see retail holiday displays earlier and earlier. It was bad enough when left-over Halloween items were moved to the clearance aisles to make room for lighted reindeer and imitation holly wreaths. Not this year. Plastic pumpkins sat across from decorated Christmas trees without so much as a Thanksgiving turkey between them. If you listened closely, you may have even heard “Silent Night” playing softly in the background while you were buying candy for your trick-or-treaters.
Retailers say they have an excuse for all of this forced jolliness. If they don’t bombard us with the seasonal hype early enough, we might just skip holiday shopping all together. Unfortunately, most retailers depend upon the weeks leading up to Christmas to make their profit margins for the year. In the meantime, some of us have experienced job layoffs and cutbacks.
All of us have watched our IRAs and investment accounts tank in the last four months. And in August alone, Lake and Sumter counties had more than 600 filings for home foreclosures. Excessive holiday shopping is not an option for thousands of people, not only in America but right here in our local communities.
With all the dire economic news, it is easy to feel sorry for ourselves—whether we are consumers or retailers. For a minute, though, think about the families who are barely scraping by and who must rely on area food banks to have enough food to last through the week. Many are hard-working people who don’t have enough money left over for food after paying rent and utilities. How hard it must be for those parents to walk through stores and know that they cannot afford even the smallest of gifts for their children.
We say to ourselves every holiday season: “Remember those who are less fortunate.” I can think of no other year in my lifetime when this self-admonition was more relevant.
Within the past few weeks, area food banks have pleaded for help. The Faith Neighborhood Center in South Lake serves 800 families per month, but the number is growing and shelves are emptying faster than donations are coming in. The Leesburg Food Bank on Sunshine Avenue was recently forced to deal with high utility costs and a decrease in contributions. And Leesburg’s First Baptist Church had to temporarily suspend its food kitchen operation earlier this fall when donations dropped. Every charitable service is struggling, and they need our help not just this month but throughout the coming year.
One of my favorite Christmas stories is O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, a classic tale about giving and receiving. A young couple can barely afford a one-room apartment, yet their unselfish love is greater than any possession. Let us remember that our unselfish caring and concern for each other and for those who are less fortunate can make this holiday season truly jolly in a way that matters.
WANT TO HELP?
Faith Neighborhood Center, Groveland
Christian Food Pantry, Lady Lake
Caring Hands Food Pantry, Wildwood
Leesburg Food Bank
First Baptist Church of Leesburg