‘Tis The Season To Do The Right Thing

Posted: November 27, 2009 in Compassion, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Hunger, Morality, Politics, Poverty

Last night, I spent time reading through a number of news articles about homeless shelters and other charitable organizations which offered some type of Thanksgiving meals to the homeless and other "needy" folk.

As is usual with these types of holiday meals, there were ample volunteers on hand to help.

It’s not at all surprising. After all, this is the season of "good will toward all men."

But it’s not just regular folk who volunteered.  

A press release in Reuters mentioned that Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, along with "… dozens of celebrities" were on hand to serve a "traditional" Thanksgiving meal to approximately 2,500 poor and homeless at the Fred Jordan Mission in L.A.’s skid row district.

Earlier this month, a Washington Post article reported that Vice-President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to the Father McKenna Center of St. Aloysius Church in Washington D.C..

Upon his arrival, the Vice-President donned an apron and rubber gloves, took his place behind a table and helped served fish sticks to about 80 homeless men.

I realize that what I’m about to say throughout the rest of this post will probably cause others think of me as being somewhat cynical. Nonetheless I wonder about all of the "seasonal volunteerism" that occurs during this time of year.

I have no doubt whatsoever that those folks who volunteer their time to help serve holiday meals to the poor and homeless are doing it with good intentions. I’m also reasonably certain that they truly believe they are making a difference.

I don’t see anything wrong with folks wanting to volunteer their time to help serve a Thanksgiving (or Christmas) meal at their local area homeless shelter. I think it’s good thing.

All the same, it seems to me that doing something "nice" for the poor, the needy and the homeless only around the holiday season is little more than a token gesture – especially when the volunteers are celebrities or public figures.

That L.A.’s Mayor volunteered his time to serve a Thanksgiving meal to some of his city’s homeless is a good thing. However, it would better serve the community if he did the right thing and diligently pushed for (and implemented) programs and services which went beyond simply feeding and sheltering the homeless; programs that would actually help the homeless become housed members of the community.

That there were "… dozens of celebrities" to help Mayor Villaraigosa serve a "traditional" Thanksgiving meal is a good thing. Yet, perhaps those celebrities could do the right thing and use their celebrity and begin a public awareness campaign that would work toward dispelling the stereotypes and myths about homelessness – and would encourage the rest of us to reach out a hand of compassion to the homeless every day of the year, instead of just during the holiday season.

It was a good thing when Vice-President Biden showed up at a local shelter helped feed some of the homeless in the nation’s capitol. But perhaps the Vice-President should do the right thing and urge President Obama and the U.S. Congress to put forth legislation which adequately funds programs and services which go beyond simply feeding and sheltering the nation’s homeless and actually assists them regain permanent housing of their own.

I don’t pretend to know what motivated any of these public figures to volunteer their time. Nor do I mean to imply that their actions were nothing more than a photo-op designed to boost the image of the public personas.

Their volunteering could have been a genuine desire to help.

If that is indeed the case, then I applaud their efforts.

However, doing something nice, something good – no matter how well intentioned – is a far cry from doing the right thing.

Feeding and sheltering our nation’s homeless is a good thing. But it’s still nothing more than a hand-out.

The right thing is to offer a hand up and strive to provide the means for the homeless to become housed members of the community.

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