by AY Staff
Few things in life bring the sort of joy and child-like wonder into our lives that Christmastime does. The trees are up, and so are the stockings. The lights on the outside of the house send a litany of colors into the cold night air as a fire crackles inside, keeping our loved ones warm as the bel canto baritone of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas carries through the home.
For many of us, this is the most magical time of year. The only thing better than waking up on Christmas morning is the budding excitement of each passing day as it draws nearer.
But for others, the holiday season is a time marked by dread and the anxious pain of not knowing whether there will be food on the table or a single present under the tree. That’s an anxiety that far too many know all too well, especially here in the Natural State.
While a majority of Americans will collectively spend tens of billions of dollars on presents, sweet treats, turkeys and hams this December, many homes are at risk of going without. Despite a healthy economy and record low unemployment, Arkansas sits high on the list of the country’s most impoverished states.
According to the U.S. Census, Arkansas has the fifth-worst poverty rate in the nation at 17.2 percent. And according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, more than 15 percent of Arkansas households are food insecure. Another 6 percent are very low food secure.
That means, of the 1.04 million households in the Natural State, some 158,000 homes might not know where their next meal will come or whether or not there will be money left over to make Christmas morning magical for their little ones.
Don’t let this take the shine from the brilliance of your Christmas. Instead, for those of us with plenty, Christmas grants us the perfect opportunity to give back to those in need. And that, too, is yet another reason this time of year is so magical; we take the time to reflect and give thanks for the many beautiful things we’ve been blessed with in our lives, and strangers locking arms with one another to make the holiday special regardless of circumstance.
There are few things we can do as we march through this magical time of year that has as much impact as service to others, and that service can take many forms. For some of us, that means providing food for those with none by donating to a local food bank or hunger relief effort. It doesn’t take much; every little bit counts.
You can help make the season miraculous for underprivileged children by giving toys to a local toy drive or by brightening the Christmas morning of a less fortunate child chosen from the branches of an angel tree.
Sometimes, the simplest but most rewarding thing you can give this Christmas season is of yourself and your time. Whether you choose to do so by serving in a soup kitchen, pitching in at a homeless shelter or singing Christmas carols at a nursing home, there are many ways to warm the hearts of those in need and your own in the process.
Charles Dickens, the novelist credited with the romantic revival of the Christmas tradition with A Christmas Carol, once wrote, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
No space of regret could make amends for Ebenezer Scrooge’s life of opportunity misused. Don’t let this season pass you by without brightening the lives of those in need.
• Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance
1400 W Markham St., #304
Little Rock, AR 72201
• The Salvation Army of Arkansas and Oklahoma
Check their website for your local branch’s information:
• Arkansas Food Bank
4301 W 65th Street
Little Rock, AR 72209
• River Valley Regional Food Bank
1617 South Zero Street
Fort Smith, AR 72901
• Northwest Arkansas Food Bank
1378 June Self Drive
Bethel Heights, AR 72764
• Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas
3414 One Place
Jonesboro, AR 72404
• Food Bank of North Central Arkansas
14215 Hwy 5 South
Norfork, AR 72658
• Harvest Regional Food Bank
3120 East 19th
Texarkana, AR 71854
• The Watershed
3701 Springer Blvd
Little Rock, AR 72206
• Sheep Dog Impact Assistance
1200 W. Walnut St., Suite 2301
Rogers, AR 72756
• Festival of Stars Toy Drive
10 drop-off locations across the state.
• List of Food Pantries in Arkansas:
*This is not an exhaustive list. There are many other organizations around the state dedicated to helping the underprivileged all year long that will be in desperate need of additional assistance this holiday season, as well as local churches and school districts that will be accepting donations and volunteers. Find your way to give.