Every year at holiday time, I begin to see the advertisements running in newspapers. They depict hungry people and call upon us to give money to bestow upon them one day of holiday cheer.
This December ritual is disheartening to me. It hurts me because where I am throughout the year, people suffer every day. Their hunger is not seasonal.
All year long Frontline Foundation volunteers are on the streets, fighting traffic six days a week to deliver meals on skid row. I help my husband run the Van Nuys-based foundation, a small, grass-roots group, but I believe a powerful example of what a few determined people can do if they want to take action against hunger.
Throughout the year we make bread pickups at night, work earnestly in the kitchen preparing the meals we take downtown and solicit donations from as many people as we can inspire. We cut expenses, we save the nickels and pennies. We even recycle for extra cash. We have fund-raisers every month, with every invitation going out with a handwritten note from my husband, Ray Castellani, Frontline's founder. No one sees the endless hours of figuring expenses, bookkeeping and coordinating the program. This "serving humanity" thing is a life-consuming effort for everyone who comes in contact with it. It just grabs your heart and soul.
And then the holidays come around, and I start seeing the ads. I see TV news programs highlighting what missions are doing on holidays. I see celebrities massing downtown to serve on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. I see carloads of people caravaning downtown to receive the gifts that were solicited on behalf of the homeless, but which so often don't get to them. I hear so many talk about what their businesses are doing to help during the season. And I hear our phone ring, regularly, with people wanting to volunteer, but only on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
I never doubt the good intentions of everyone during this season. But I wish people would think of fund-raisers for the homeless throughout the year. I wish people would want to volunteer in every month except November and December.
And I wish with all of my heart that some of the millions of dollars received from those elaborate and often misleading ad campaigns would go to small, grass-roots groups like Frontline that are doing powerful work. I wish people could have the opportunity, only granted by the media, to see what Frontline is about. I wish people would wonder why it costs some programs so much to serve food and why it costs others so little. I wish just one celebrity would throw his or her name and face behind Frontline and make it known that there are such groups that give honestly and freely, without asking anything in return and without manipulating people in the process.
These are my wishes. Is there a Santa who could grant them? I know there is a TV news program that could, a celebrity who could and millions of potential donors and volunteers who could. I know there is a corporation that, with a small donation by its standards, could fund our entire program for a year.
I hurt during these holidays. I with they were over.