Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

That Monty Python Moment

with 5 comments

Meaning, of course: and now for something completely different.

At least, completely different from what we’ve been doing lately.  I meant to do this last year, and then I got worried that I’d sound hectoring, so I didn’t.

But this year I keep running across stuff–hard to explain it any other way–and I thought I’d do it.

In the meantime, you might want to look here


which is a link I found at Arts and Letters Daily this morning.

It nears some relation to all this, if only peripherally.

So, what am I on about?

The holiday season is here, no matter what holidays you celebrate, and with it there are dozens of people and dozens of organizations that all want us to do something.

And, as far as I’m concerned, we should do something.

I’m not a romantic.  I’ve dealth with “targetted populations” long enough, and consistently enough, to understand that “the homeless” aren’t the pitiful victims of chance and circumstance that the volunteer organizations like to portray them as.  I know that not everybody who shows up at the food bank is short on groceries because they just haven’t been able to find a job in this economy.

I know it, and I don’t care.  One of the most startlingly impressive things I ever read in my life was a Latin essay–I don’t remember by whom, a minor writer, not somebody you’d recognize–written in around 200 or so AD/CE, explaining that the people were much drawn to the Christians because they gave charity without inquiring into the merit of those who needed it.

In other words, they fed the deserving poor and the bums alike, they tended the sick whether the sick were that way because they’d been struck by a rare disease or driven their health into the ground on vino.

So, as far as I’m concerned, charity–real charity–is a good thing, and we all ought to be engaged in it.

That said, I have some suggestions.

The first thing is that the best thing you can give is time.  Food banks, food pantries, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, toy drives all need people to man the cafeteria lines and to drive stuff here and there.

They especially need those things near or on the holidays.  Almost all soup kitchens serve Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at some other time than actual Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner because most people want to be home with their own families when the holiday comes.

And I’m one of them, mostly.  We only did one year where we served Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving afternoon and one where we did Christmas, but late–we had Christmas dinner at noon at home and then did a round in the evening.

And Bill was still alive both those times, so you can figure out how long ago that was.

I want to be home for the holidays, you want to be home for the holidays.  But the poor and the homeless want to be home for the holidays, too, and it’s a great thing when the local soup kitchen can find enough people willing to work on the day to be able to serve on the day. 

So look into ways you can give your time, and if you’re stranded this holiday, see if you can’t find someplace that’s looking to do the holiday on the holiday for the people who otherwise wouldn’t have it.

Oh, and while we’re at it–Meals on Wheels has a lot of trouble finding people this time of year, at least some places.  They’re a good group to go to to give some time.

But on the subject of old people, the best thing you can do is invite one you know who’s alone–the old lady down the street, whoever–or go to visit if they can’t get out. 

The second thing is that, if you’re giving stuff, rather than time, and you’re contributing to an organization that works directly feeding and clothing the poor, give money.

I mean it. 

Most soup kitchens and food pantries are part of national networks that make it possible for them to buy food in bulk.  They may have drives for your cans and bottles, but they’ll be more than happy for money instead and they’ll do a lot more with it than you will.   Our local places up here say they can get enough food for 17 Thanksgiving dinners for $5. 

And while we’re at it: if you work at a food pantry or soup kitchen, or you just give to them, I wish you’d give some thought to solving the “please sir, can I have some more” problem that is endemic to the holidays.

By that I mean the fact that most of these places just don’t collect enough food or money to manage second helpings, even for children. 

And yes, I know why that problem is there and no, I don’t know how to solve it–but I wish I did.

Third, if you do give cans and bottles to things like a Boy Scout or a police drive, let me suggest this:  don’t just clean out your cabinets of everything you don’t want.  Go get some stuff you’d want and give that instead.

A lot of stores around here have two for one and three for one sales around this time of year–buy one, get one free; buy one, get two free. Go to those and give the “and free” to the drive.

People with little or no food will be grateful for what they can get, but they’re human.  Kidney beans and canned stewed tomatoes are all well and good, but it’s Thanksgiving.  Cranberry sauce and sweet corn would be nice. 

Finally, the holidays will come and go, and the rest of the year will be out there waiting.  And there’s a lot of the rest of the year. 

Time is short, and we’ve all got to make a living.

But, you know. 


End of hectoring rant.

Written by janeh

November 20th, 2010 at 8:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'That Monty Python Moment'

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  1. I second this! I heard a standup comic say once, “Someone told me not to give money to a bum because he would only spend it on booze and drugs, and then I thought…hey, that’s what I would spend it on! So I gave it to him.” The notion of “the deserving poor” makes me ill. They need help–if I can give it, I give it.

    That said, I give money and not time, but thanks for the kick in the butt….



    20 Nov 10 at 12:58 pm

  2. I third this. As Greeley said, “let it be on them that they [wasted it or didn’t need] it, not on us for not giving it.” Two things:

    Send the money early. The food banks run on two-week cycles. They needed those frozen turkeys and chickens weeks ago. And the time to give to the blanket drive is not when it’s already freezing cold.

    If you’re REALLY late, go for things. Every year there are a few families who slip completely through the cracks–maybe because the crisis hit late–and Social Services can tell you about them. If you’re dropping off stuff on Christmas Eve, you should be dropping food, wrapped presents and a tree, not a nice check. Time and a place for everything.



    20 Nov 10 at 3:05 pm

  3. This year my contribution to the poor was much closer to home. My sister has been out of work since April, 2009. Since then, I’ve contributed about $4000 to her support, and am still paying for her internet services, though I’m basically severely underemployed at the moment. (with no unemployment, I note, because I’m self-employed)

    I just heard today that my sis started a new job this week. I really hope it works out for her.


    20 Nov 10 at 3:08 pm

  4. Volunteer work is great – for the volunteer sometimes as much as for the target. I really don’t like this thing they have in schools now with compulsory volunteer work.

    I find giving money to a food bank much easier than lugging cans of tuna or whatever around, and I too have heard that they can get more for the money than I can. All the food drives seem to be looking for non-perishable food items, although the local CBC collects and keeps frozen until needed a vast number of turkeys at Christmas.

    And it’s not just during the holidays these things are important. I’ve helped with a Christmas dinner in recent years, and they’re practically over-run with volunteers! AND it’s on Christmas Day. I usually sign up for the early shift – about 10-1. But the elderly need visits and the hungry food the rest of the year, too.


    20 Nov 10 at 7:16 pm

  5. Thanks for the reminders, Jane. Good suggestions.

    The only thing I’d say, as someone who works at a food pantry, is that Thanksgiving through Christmas is when most people think of the hungry. But people are hungry all year long. At our food pantry, our shelves get bare in the summertime because groups aren’t running drives then. But our clients’ kids aren’t getting free meals at school, so the families need MORE food then.

    Money’s great anytime, because we can bank it (no storage issues like we have in Nov. and Dec.) and buy food cheaply when we need it most.

    Jill B.

    21 Nov 10 at 2:22 pm

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