It’s important to know where you stand on the important annual debate – one of the hottest to rage during the cold months of the calendar. It’s not related to local or national politics, mercifully, and it doesn’t involve whether canned cranberry sauce is better than fresh. Rather, the debate is how soon does the “holiday season” begin, and what does that mean, exactly?
For some, Christmas trees already stand erect with dazzling lights and Bing Crosby is already serenading their home with his incomparable baritone charm. For others, the thought of hearing reindeer and jingle-bell-themed music in mid-November sends them into a Grinch-like fugue state of holiday humbug.
Conglomerate corporations clearly have chosen their side (shockingly), and that means that stores in the malls already have already had fully decked out Christmas sections and holiday music blasting since the clock struck 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 1. You could practically hear the rattling bones of hastily dismantled skeleton displays across the state as stores immediately shifted into their ho-ho-highest profit margin months of the year.
We feel it important to plead that one aspect of the holiday season cannot be overlooked in the rapidly expanding mammoth that is American Christmastime – and that would be Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving doesn’t simply represent a union of different people coming together to one dinner table – a symbol in and of itself of the commonality of our species, and how we should take time to break bread with one another rather than simply shout over one another – it represents an opportunity to do what we do far too seldom in our chaotic lives: take a moment to reflect on what we have, and what others do not.
People like Mark Putnam understand that notion, and they put their money where they mouth is – and not just so they can stuff it with a heaping forkful of turkey.
On Monday morning, Putnam was at the front counter of the Rhode Island Food Bank, a hundred-dollar bill in hand, looking to donate to the pantry and also seeking any volunteering opportunities that he and his wife, Nancy – a former Beacon employee – could undertake on Thanksgiving Day. Their kids have long since moved out, and have busy lives of their own, so they didn’t have big plans for the day.
Rather than sit home and watch television in between tryptophan-induced naps, Putnam said he would rather give back to those who have less than he has – less to eat, and less to be thankful for in general. He doesn’t just do this to fulfill some arbitrary obligation, he also volunteers as part of an educational program at the ACI to help inmates find inner peace amidst lives that often contain little more than tragedy and sorrow.
“We’re all on this Earth together,” Putnam said, shrugging off the notion he does anything particularly special in sharing his goodwill towards others.
It’s this attitude that can change lives. It’s the same attitude found in parishioners from churches across Warwick and other Rhode Island communities that result in thousands of food baskets being donated to those in need throughout the state. It’s the driving force behind dedicated employees tasked with the daunting challenge of feeding those in dire need of assistance throughout the year – not just during the couple months when food donations come in droves thanks to holiday spirit.
Thanks to Warwick church groups alone, 315 families will receive a basket full of Thanksgiving meal fixings, and 273 individuals will receive gift cards to take even just a little pressure off expensive food shopping, which the Rhode Island Food Bank reported increased by about 15 percent this past year.
The fact of the matter is that those who have the ability to afford a home, a car, a little extra money to put aside for savings or a hobby or just going out to eat every once in a while; those who have the money to never be concerned about where their next meal is coming from – have much to be thankful for that others do not.
As many as 159,000 Rhode Islanders receive benefits through SNAP, and the number of Rhode Islanders reporting severe food insecurity increased by nearly 8,000 from 2005-07 to 2015-17. This problem is not simply going away, even as other areas of the economy improve.
Only by channeling true holiday spirit – being more selfless, whether it’s of our time, resources or currency – will we be able to help those most in need. Sorry early, Christmas lovers, blasting holiday radio stations simply won’t cut it.