With Christmas just around the corner, Christians near and far are looking forward to gathering with friends and family to share a wonderful meal, count their blessings, exchange gifts and look ahead to a new year. Unfortunately, two de facto holidays – Black Friday and Cyber Monday, both associated with traffic, conspicuous consumption and financial obligation – have become part of the picture. Many people have lost the true meaning of Christmas during the hectic seasonal buzz, and the most needy are largely forgotten. Individuals and families who never fret about overcrowded malls or low credit card balances, about overcooked rib roast or the wrong gift bag; they’re hungry and without a warm place to sleep.
“At Christmas, we remember the birth of that special little baby, whose life story still inspires us,” says Tita Smith, executive director of Catholic Charities Orange County (ccoc.org). “In this season of giving, let us give to and pray for all those less fortunate, and those who open their doors to them.”
Giving to others in need, an essential element of Catholic social teaching, can be provided around the corner or around the world. Case in point: the victims of the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Residents of the latter, hit the hardest, have received less aid in a less-timely manner.
Fr. Jerome Karcher, pastor of Saint Vincent De Paul Church in Huntington Beach, speaks eloquently about Christmas charity at a time of dire need. “Charity calls for a ‘disinterested love.’ That is a love that seeks nothing in return, a love that does not seek self-interest but rather the good of another. This charity, this love, can be demanding, especially in the context of world disasters such as the hurricane in Puerto Rico, where there is great need and people who rely upon our charity – our disinterested love – for them to simply survive.”
How can we help? For starters, donate money. While it seems impersonal, relief organizations throughout the world note that money is by far the best way to help them provide aid. Along with Catholic Charities of Orange County (ccoc.org), the Diocese’s Catholic Relief Fund (rcbo.org/hurricane-harvey-relief) is a great place to start. Donations will be used to help victims of all three hurricanes. Others to consider are Catholic Relief Services (crs.org) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (usccb.org).
By giving to Catholic charities, those in need get more bang from your buck. “It’s easily proven that Catholic agencies give more direct aid to others than many charities, says Fr. Christopher Heath, pastor of St. Hedwig Catholic Church in Los Alamitos. “Some only give pennies on the dollar to direct aid, while Church charities give a far, far higher percentage.”
It doesn’t take a lot – say, the cost of two Venti Mocha Frappucinos – to make a difference. When enough people donate, says Fr. Chris, “Even 10 dollars adds up pretty quickly.”
For whatever reason, friends, co-workers and acquaintances may prefer to give to secular charities. Before doing so, they would be wise to review them by checking with independent financial-monitoring groups such as Charity Navigator or Charity Watch. (These organizations, and those that follow, can all be found through Google.)
Relief nonprofits to consider include UNICEF, World Relief, the American Red Cross, the International Medical Corp, Americares and Direct Relief. Others are headquartered in Puerto Rico, such as ConPRmetidos, and many hurricane-relief efforts can be found at GoFundMe, the popular online donation resource.
Although relief organizations from Placentia to Puerto Rico are grateful for any financial help, money doesn’t carry boxes of food or medicine to a damaged hospital. Money doesn’t hold a light for a surgical team or haul construction equipment to a washed-out bridge.
Those who wish to volunteer in areas hit by a catastrophe can visit the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. (Click on “How to Help” then “Volunteer.”) Kind souls who want to lend a hand can choose a volunteer opportunity based on geography and availability date, or they may select a specific agency.
Fr. Chris reminds us that anyone who wants to help those less fortunate – whether financially or through “sweat equity” – should remember the essence of Catholic charity.
“St. Paul wrote, ‘As a matter of equality, your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs.” (2 Cor 8:14). “This is not meant to be self-serving, but simply a recognition that we all will fall on hard times, so while we have an abundance – and yes, to a suffering person even 10 dollars is an abundance – we ought to see that God has shared with us many blessings, expecting that we will share them with others according to our ability.”
Tita Smith puts it another way: “Christmas is the celebration of ‘keeping it real,’ the celebration of our Creator connecting with us by joining our struggle. May gestures of generosity and kindness to our neighbors, acts that we call charity, continue to warm our universe, in the truest Catholic sense.”