As we approach the proverbial season of giving, many people are probably thinking, “Didn’t I already do that last year?” Every year, our Euro centric culture focuses nearly all of its altruistic energies on the Christmas season, resulting in a philanthropic cornucopia of Salvation Army Santas ringing their bells for money outside of the local Target, “Adopt-a-family” drives, and donations of presents for underprivileged children.
Amidst all of this holiday cheer, it is easy to either dismiss charity altogether as corny and unrealistic or to turn a cynical shoulder while complaining that people today want everything without working for it. It is even easier to put such activities on the backburner during this hectic time of year or to simply let laziness get the better of any charitable impulses that somehow snuck into your head after watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” After all, you could donate a present, but who wants to go to the mall during the holidays?
For those who find themselves year in and year out formulating a detailed plan of how to escape Target without crossing paths with the Salvation Army, there is still hope. The student group STEP (Students Together Ending Poverty) is making it very easy this year to donate money or food or both to a good cause. All they ask is that the next time you are rummaging through your cupboard you set one of those packages of Ramin or cans of Ravioli-O’s aside and drop it off in UC 240. You won’t exactly starve because of the loss and you will have a chance to feed someone who may be close to starving.
Still not convinced? Well, living in Miami, it shouldn’t be hard to convince anyone that homelessness is a problem. Millions of Americans sleep on the streets and are never sure of when their next meal will be, and many of those Americans can be seen right here in our own city. Anyone who has been to South Beach should be familiar with the irony of a homeless woman or man sleeping outside of a store that sells G-strings for $300. And anyone who knows anything about homelessness should be familiar with the fact that it is not exclusively a lazy, drug and alcohol addicted community, as some people do indeed believe.
On Tuesday, STEP organized a luncheon called “Faces of the Homeless” where people who have to deal with these issues in their own lives were able to speak. It was clear that these people were no lazier than anyone else. They had no aversion to work or holding a steady job. They were not happy with having little or no financial control over their lives. Rather, they were caught in a trap of bad credit, little opportunity, and sometimes an inability to find work because of the lack of a mailing address. These were not people who were content to be the receptacles of charity, but people who were desperately trying to make a life for themselves and their families in spite of their decreasing opportunities to do so.
Of course, donating food and money will not solve all of their problems, but it at least recognizes that they exist and that they are not struggling alone. We think students should take an active role in addressing this problem instead of simply brushing it under the rug as our government tends to do. A good place to start is by taking part in the “Skip-a-Meal” project in the campus cafeterias where students can sign up to skip a meal with the proceeds going to homeless shelters.