The Christmas season more than three decades ago, “…was the best of times, [and] it was the worst of times…” as Charles Dickens once wrote. The best of times, because we were healthy, the worst, because as a single mom I found myself part of the U.S. poverty statistic.
This memory came flooding back recently while shopping at the supermarket. I began to wonder how people with limited financial resources like I once had, could possibly feed their families with the escalating prices at the grocery. Besides, the daily struggle, Christmas is coming for this economically endangered population.
Even when your financial situation is rocky, Christmas comes with the human expectation should celebrate by giving to others. That’s when my mind recalled my own plight as a young single mother on welfare living in a government-subsidized apartment, despite a newly acquired college degree. I was ashamed of betraying my hard-fought dream of becoming a middle-class citizen through higher education. After months of sending out resume after resume during the recession and record unemployment of the early eighties, there was still no career prospect on the horizon.
Wanting to give presents to my loved ones is how the banana nut bread Christmas came to be. Not blessed with much domestic talent, I surprised myself that winter by mastering a recipe for banana nut bread. I got a couple boxes of Bisquick, nuts, some reduced over-ripe bananas perfect for baking, and a dented box of foil from a food salvage store.
Loaf after loaf of golden-brown bread baked in my little apartment oven in borrowed loaf pans. Then once the delicious smelling bread cooled, I wrapped it in seasonally appropriate, silver (aluminum) foil and tied a festive red bow around it. Admittedly, the nuts in the nut bread were quite sparse, due to my budget.
Through the years, I have been blessed with financial stability, and it’s easy to forget the frantic tension not having enough money for monthly bills, rent, food, or even diapers can produce within a family unit. And everything seems worse at Christmas. This all came rushing back wondering how on Earth people would “make ends meet.” as my grandmother used to say.
This is not a political column being written to point a finger of blame at anyone for the rising inflation and prices. Besides, that would be a useless technique in helping folks who are struggling with food insecurity. Thankfully, my own circumstances have improved dramatically for the better over the years, but millions of Americans are not so fortunate.
For instance, an employed friend recently confided their present need to visit the local food pantry to supplement the family’s monthly groceries. This saddened me, because I had no idea this friend was experiencing such need. Hearing this story reminded how tricky poverty can be. I remember only too well the destitution and shame it produces, which silences you. Once your voice is gone, you can give in to apathy and hopelessness.
The 2021 U.S. Census Bureau reported the poverty rate at 12.8 percent, also citing child poverty even higher at almost 17 percent. These sterile numbers do not adequately represent the plight of the innocent children or endangered seniors who face each day without nutritional food since healthy food costs more or those who might go to bed hungry.
Senior citizens can be at special risk. Last month, a senior friend expressed their embarrassment at going to a food pantry once, admitting their pride prevented them from returning. These true stories were refresher courses for me about what scarcity feels like.
Thankfully, many communities take note of the needs of those less fortunate during this season of giving believing the Biblical viewpoint that, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” especially where children are concerned.
It’s wonderful for all the organizations who make sure a child to has some gifts to open. But this Christmas, let’s also remember the food pantries that minister to our friends and neighbors or maybe we can make a gift of grocery gift card to someone we suspect is in need.
As for me, I will never forget the banana nut bread Christmas. Since, “It [really] is more blessed to give than to receive,” giving the homemade bread as presents to family and friends gave me special joy. I had beaten the recession Grinch who had tried to steal Christmas.
When one is able to give something – anything – hope arises in the midst of lack. Hope for a brighter future and better life!
Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist/speaker and five-time Chicken Soup for the Soul book contributor. Her inspirational book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online outlets. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com .