Remember those who are struggling

After a meeting the other day, a few stragglers were talking and the conversation naturally turned to Christmas, specifically charity.

The Post sponsored several foster children this year, and we were talking about all the gifts employees had pitched in to buy for these kids. Just looking around the room where the gifts were being wrapped and stored was enough to put a lump in my throat. I imagine it's a scene repeated at offices, churches, charities and private homes around the country.

But it's not repeated everywhere, and that's a shame.

As you get older, Christmas should be more about giving than getting, especially if you've got it to spare.

So why don't we all do something for someone else at Christmas? Because too many of us take too much for granted.

We get wrapped up in how bad the mall traffic is or how high the last gas bill was. We worry over the minutia: Can you believe they didn't have the tires I ordered for the Lexus? I missed the game because the cable was out. My PDA froze up and lost my last 100 e-mails.

Trivial doesn't begin to describe those things when compared to wearing shoes with holes in them, digging in the trash for scraps or burning furniture to stay warm.

I'm every bit as guilty as anyone else. I get caught up in life and I take it all for granted most of the time. But every once in a while I see something that reminds me how lucky I am.

One of the first times I really saw abject poverty was when I was working at a grocery store in college. A family came in wearing tattered clothes and worn-out shoes. They were buying their groceries with food stamps.

Now I can't tell you the number of Cadillacs, Lincolns and other luxury cars I loaded full of groceries bought with food stamps. Food stamps made no distinction at the time between what you could buy, as long as you could it eat it. So these folks loaded up on steak, shrimp and rich desserts by the cartload, and I loaded it in their Cadillac while gold jewelry dangled from their wrists, ears and necks and they tried not to get anything on their designer shoes and clothes.

These thieves couldn't have been more blatant in their mocking of the system they were swindling. I wanted to punch every one of them.

But then came that family. Holes in their shirts. Rips in their pants. Shoes worn almost through. But it was the look on their faces that really said it.

They looked so tired. Worn out. Exhausted. Defeated. No smiles on their faces, no joy in their eyes. These folks were young. They should have been full of life, but just existing was a battle for this family, and it looked like they were losing.

Oddly enough, they didn't buy steak and shrimp. They bought the cheapest meats, the cheapest vegetables and the cheapest staples. They made their stamps go as far as they could possibly go, because unlike the thieves in the Cadillacs, they only had about a third as many stamps, so they had to make them last.

I watched them load their groceries in an old truck that was being held together only by God's good graces. In fact, it broke down as they tried to drive away. The man got out and worked on it until it cranked while I wondered how many times he'd fixed the old junker.

A few minutes after they left I was in the back of the store and saw the family had returned. This time they were digging in the Dumpster for the old bread and out-of-date products we'd thrown away.

I couldn't bear to watch anymore. I felt like I was intruding on this family's intensely personal tribulation, like I didn't have the right to watch such suffering because I couldn't understand it. Because I hadn't lived it.

I've been lucky so far, and I've never had to live like that. But I never forgot that family. Or the man I saw eating out of a garbage can in Daytona Beach. Or the sleeping man I stepped over on the sidewalk in New York.

I wonder about each of them, where they are, what they're doing, if they're even alive, and if they are, I wonder how their Christmas will be.

This weekend, do something for someone who has less, no matter how small the gesture. Put five bucks in the Salvation Army bucket. By a pair of shoes and take it to the local charity. Take a ham to the shelter.

The reason doesn't matter. Do it because it makes you feel good. Do it because you used to be like them and now you have more and want to share. Do it because it will lift someone up or make someone happy. But most of all, do it.

Do it because it needs to be done.

Send e-mail to nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com.

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