Editor's column: Give the gift of giving in Richmond

For the last few weeks we have been running a regular “Giving Series” in which we profile some of the worthy not-for-profits in our community that are trying to make the season a little more jolly for those who are struggling.

Our front page features the Salvation Army and its upcoming Christmas dinner as well as its regular hot lunches, summer camps for kids and, most recently, its opening of a homeless shelter for men and women in the Ironwood area.

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Last week, we featured the Rotary’s Winter Wonderland. The money raised through Christmas tree decorating will go to supporting local charities as well as the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, which helps prevent avoidable blindness in developing countries, and the Kiwassa Neighbourhood House in Vancouver, which provides programs for seniors.

And then there’s the Food Bank, the Christmas Fund, Stocking for Seniors — all great initiatives meant to share the love. In today’s Pulse page, you’ll find a photo spread of the Not So Silent Night  auction where a mere $65,000 was raised to ensure local kids have something under the tree this Christmas morning.

When we do these stories, I’m always inspired by the compassion and commitment of the organizers, volunteers and donors who make it work. I’m also touched by the poignant stories of those who have found themselves in need of charity. The story of a mom and her 29-year-old special needs son, who are so grateful for the camaraderie they find at the Salvation Army lunch, for example.

But, more than anything, I feel angry.

I’m angry that we’re still here begging people to give a little to those who are getting trampled under the system, reliving a scene out of A Christmas Carol when two “portly gentlemen” come to Scrooge’s office pleading for a charitable donation, telling the old miser that “Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

The executive director of Richmond’s Food Bank is neither portly nor a gentleman, but 175 years later she’s basically saying the same thing: the need is great and the situation is getting ever-more desperate. Ditto from the Salvation Army’s Kathy Chui.

I don’t want to be a downer at this time of cheer. I know we don’t have the kind of extreme poverty seen in Dickens’  age. I know we have longer life expectancy and far more safety nets. But, still, considering how far we’ve advanced in so many other areas, it’s astonishing we’re even having charity drives. What’s more, we’re going in the wrong direction. The “poor and destitute” class has only grown in the past four decades.

Some argue poverty is inevitable. Human nature is such that there will always be haves and have nots. I don’t buy it any more than I buy the notion climate change is destined. If our behaviour, our systems, our economic structures are the cause of social inequality or environmental degradation, of course we can change them. They’re ours to change. Perhaps the greatest donations we can make this Christmas is a commitment to do so.

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