Poverty seems more poignant during the holidays.
The rest of the year, we may comfort ourselves that poverty is always with us - there's not a lot we can do about it. So we help people who are less fortunate, or we don't, depending on our personal inclinations.This time of year, though, people seem to kick into high gear. Maybe it's the mental image of a child who won't get visited by Santa Claus, even though he's been as good as his more wealthy friends.
Maybe it's a sense of thankfulness because during this time of year people are reminded of the things they have - and the things others have not.
Non-profit organizations know this is a good time to ask for help. For instance, people line up to provide gifts, meals, toys and entertainment to the children who are staying at the homeless shelter with their families.
The same generosity does not extend to the women and men who are homeless, although they are probably as lonely and frightened during the holidays as the children.
Patrick Poulin, director at the shelter, suggests two reasons for that: Most people think adults should be able to care for themselves. And the sheer numbers - up to 300 men - make it difficult to provide even something small for everyone.
When the holidays are over, the children still get some attention because people can't resist a needy child. But it slows way down; they have needs that are only met in November and December.
I've wished that the open-handed generosity could spread out a little. The glut of the holidays must make February look awfully dull, or set the children up for expectations that won't be met.
But I'd never discourage people from giving during the holidays. If some people didn't give then, they'd never give.
I can't help but wonder, though, what happens to children whose lives may be just as drab and poor, but who don't get the attention the homeless get during the season of giving.
Do people worry about the five children whose parents work all day at minimum-wage jobs? Or the family with a parent who is disabled and can't work?
These families are not as visible. The TV cameras and the newspaper reporters don't show picture after picture of them standing in line for food. We don't follow individuals to work or the grocery store to show how poor they are or how difficult it is to make ends meet.
They have more privacy than people who are homeless, but it's a two-edged sword. They're also much less apt to receive help.
Low-income families may not seem to be in the dire straits of people who don't have a home. But providing a home and food can mean there's no money left over for anything else. And the holidays are just as bleak - maybe more so - for them.
There are Christmas programs around the valley to assist low-income, qualified families. The Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune divide Salt Lake County geographically, then invite readers to adopt a family and provide a helping hand at Christmas time.
The Marine Corps reaches large numbers of low-income kids with its Toys for Tots program. The Community Action Program, the Community Services Council, churches, civic organizations and the Salvation Army all reach out to make the holidays brighter.
Between them, they reach thousands of homes. Last year, the Deseret News' Santa's Helping Hand provided Christmas gifts for more than 3,000 youngsters.
There are a lot of ways to give and few real reasons not to. People who don't have money can give time. People who don't have time can give clothing or food. People who don't want to get personally involved can write a check. The circle is endless.
I love the holidays for the very spirit of giving that I see. It's the one time of year when people in elevators step away from the walls and make eye contact. They smile. They hold doors for each other. They reach out to others.
But I find it ironic that it's also the busiest time of the year for most of us. We have less time to do these things in the mad rush of holiday preparation. Yet time is the excuse we use 10 months of the year to explain why we can't get involved.
I hope this year will be noted for generosity and creativity. I think it would be great if, as 1990 winds down, people think about what they can and would like to do. It would be even better if the season of giving extended beyond Dec. 25.