Not buying a giant turkey and all the trimmings this year? Are you canceling the usual big reunion of family and friends for Thanksgiving, or scrapping your travel plans?
Some of us are heading into the extended holiday season with a feeling of sadness or dread this year because things aren’t going to be the way we’ve come to expect. The usual gatherings, parties and other traditions don’t seem safe as the numbers of COVID-19 cases are rising again.
But for those who can, a good way to get into the holiday spirit would be to take the resources you won’t be spending this year and instead donate to organizations in the community that are helping families in need. The pandemic doesn’t have to keep us from spreading holiday cheer by sharing what we can with less fortunate neighbors.
At too many homes across Hampton Roads, Thanksgiving dinner will be a lot like meals every other day — depressingly short on food. Hunger will be an unwelcome visitor.
The pandemic has dealt a double blow to food banks and other organizations that help people in the area who are struggling to feed themselves and their families. As people have lost jobs or had hours cut back, more have sought assistance. At the same time, because many businesses as well as individuals are struggling, donations to food banks are down.
The trendy term for the problems of people who have to worry about where the grocery money is coming from, who sometimes skip meals or eat very little, is “food insecurity.” That insecurity had already been on the rise in this region over the last few years. Economists at Old Dominion University recently reported that about 1 in 10 residents in the greater Hampton Roads area, including a few counties in northeastern North Carolina, frequently have trouble getting enough food. Some routinely go hungry.
That report drew on data from 2018, well before COVID’s disruptions drove the numbers up.
As the economy began to shut down, workers and volunteers at food banks, churches, nonprofits and other organizations that help feed the needy saw an almost immediate surge in the numbers of people needing help. Food giveaways turned into massive traffic jams. When schools — and their free breakfast and lunch programs — were shuttered for months, many families needed even more food than usual.
People working with food banks reported serving hundreds of new people, adding to the numbers of those who already relied on them for help. Making matters worse, donations from corporations, grocery stores and individuals plummeted. The cost of each donated meal soared.
The increased demand has not gone away as the pandemic has ground on. If anything, it has grown. Churches and other organizations that try to help are running out of resources. Supplies are depleted, and shelves in the pantries are often empty.
And still, people go hungry.
These are extraordinary, difficult times. Everyone who’s able — individuals as well as the regional business community — must step up to help fill the gap.
Donate to area food banks and other organizations that help feed the needy. You can do so safely online at foodbankonline.org and hrfoodbank.org, the two main food banks in the region. Or donate money or food items to churches and other organizations near you that provide food, or to neighborhood food drives.
Every year at this time, we hear reminders that even in the midst of all the festivities and over-indulgence, we should pause to think about the true meaning of the holidays. This year, we may be feeling a little down because there won’t be so many parties, feasts and gatherings.
So it’s more important than ever to think about how the holidays originated and what they really mean. By acting to help the less fortunate and spread love and goodwill, we can make this holiday season joyous, for those who need help, and for ourselves.
©2020 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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