Give Yourself This Season

To make real change, we need to give ourselves this holiday season. We need to give our preconceived notions and perceptions to a poor child and allow him or her to change what we think we know.

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During the holidays, collection drives are as much a part of our respective traditions as is a tree or menorah. This time of year, in addition to being filled with all sorts of deals and advertisements, you’ll see groups soliciting efforts for food drives, coat drives, toy drives and other efforts to help those in need.

I feel good about humanity when I hear stories about people trying to help, and I wish there were more of them throughout the year.

What we sometimes miss once the festivities pass is why so much effort is needed to help the hungry and low-income and why we only focus on it during this time of year.

We forget about the systems that keep people poor. We don’t discuss the fact that a resident in Hamilton County working full time and earning minimum wage might not have enough to buy dinner for his or her family on Thanksgiving. We don’t talk much about how the average earnings of a household in the city of Cincinnati is around $24,500.

Altruism is needed, and social benefit organizations thrive on altruism during the holiday season. It helps us get through the cold months. 

But real change — change that would end poverty — requires a change of heart. And isn’t that what the holidays are all about? 

Making the experience of being poor more comfortable is different than alleviating poverty altogether. I believe that there is a lost opportunity to educate the broader population when we publish stories about collection drives without any mention of why the drive is needed. 

Local media has actually written a number of great stories about childhood poverty in recent months. I would like to see more time given to connecting collection drives to those other in-depth pieces. 

When you read a story about impoverished children, it’s natural to feel empathy for that child, and when you read about a successful collection drive, it feels good. By not connecting those two feelings, we lose an opportunity to change a heart. And we should all be in the business of changing hearts if we wish to progress as a society. 

I would like to see the media report on the woman who works at a social benefit organization and who still has to get cans from the pantry at the very same organization to feed her child and disabled husband during the holidays. An article about a food drive juxtaposed with stories like this one might change hearts.

So please, let me thank all of you who donate cans, toys and coats. It truly does help our social benefit sector do amazing things for people with less. 

And, if I may be so bold, let me also push all of us to learn more about why so many people are poor in America, to learn why the average age of a person experiencing homelessness is 9 years old in our country and to learn why it is so difficult for our impoverished friends to feed their families — even when they have full-time jobs. 

I realize that many people donating during the holidays — and throughout the year — already know these things, and I do not wish to insult anyone’s intelligence. But if one doesn’t know why so many people are poor, maybe this is the holiday season to learn. 

To make real change we need to give ourselves this holiday season. We need to give our preconceived notions and perceptions to a poor child and allow him or her to change what we think we know. 

We need to give our sadness at an unchanging world to a young mother who is working 18 hours a day to make change for her child. We need to allow her to not only give us hope, but to make us question why someone who is doing everything “right” has to struggle so much. 

We need to give our optimism to a man who the system forgot and ended up labeled a “felon” even if he has been sober for more than a decade and doesn’t want to go back to his old ways but is living in a society that tells him he is “less than.” 

And, yes, we need to give warm clothing and canned food as well. To effect real change, we have to address immediate needs, but addressing those needs does not mean much if not accompanied by a change of heart and behavior. 

Enjoy the season, and thank you for your support of the social benefit sector and the good people we serve. Together we can make a difference if we give ourselves to one another. 


EDITOR’S NOTE: CityBeat has invited three local activists to write monthly columns on pressing issues facing Cincinnati. Mike Moroski is the executive director of UpSpring, a nonprofit working to keep children experiencing homelessness connected to their education. He is also a trustee on the Southwestern Ohio Workforce Investment Board (Youth Employment Subcommittee), a member of Cincinnati’s Human Services Advisory Committee (Homelessness Prevention Subcommittee) and a member of Mayor John Cranley’s Hand Up Steering Committee. Additionally, Moroski serves as a trustee on the board of Invest in Neighborhoods and is currently the vice president of the Sedamsville Community Development Corporation. He is also an executive committee member of the Hamilton County Democratic Party. Moroski’s self-described passion is fighting poverty and injustice — namely, the systems that keep people poor and society unjust. His columns will appear in CityBeat the first week of each month. CONTACT MIKE MOROSKI: [email protected]

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