The lines start forming up well before I head to work every Thursday. As I drive by Stardust Plaza that morning, I see dozens of people already waiting outside of the doors of the El-Ada Community Action Agency with the line already stretching around the corner into the nearby alley.
It's the same routine repeated over and over each week -- groups of people that wait for hours for the basic necessities many of us in Mountain Home often take for granted. But for those in that line, it's the one thing that helps guarantee they can put food on the table for their families.
In a country as economically powerful as the United States, it pains me to think that we have so many people that struggle to make ends meet. Many of these people are already working one or two jobs -- perhaps more than that -- but they still find themselves having to stand in line for a few cans of soup, a couple of boxes of noodles and maybe a loaf of bread in addition to whatever El-Ada and the other food banks in Mountain Home are able to scrape together for these needy individuals.
I seriously doubt any of these individuals are contemplating standing in line after Thanksgiving to take part in the Black Friday carnage that will unleash its fury in less than two days. For them, they can only dream about going to these stores and shopping for bargains.
If they're lucky, they might have a turkey on the table on Thanksgiving or Christmas this year. Having a present beneath the Christmas tree -- if they can afford one in the first place -- would be a bonus.
Granted, I have my own personal reservations about Black Friday and the reasons why I stopped going to these sales. I guess I've gotten pretty jaded at people's attitudes and their willingness to literally trample one another in hopes of buying cheap "stuff" and "things" just hours after were supposed to be thankful for what they already have.
Whatever happened to the spirit of "peace on Earth and goodwill toward men?"
Before I go any further, I have a few questions for those who often go out of their way to criticize the less fortunate. It's because I learned what happened when a few privileged children in this town ganged up and picked on another student after learning that, "he was poor."
I was absolutely flabbergasted after learning what happened. After all, why would someone do this to a fellow human being? Does singling someone out because their family struggles to make ends meet make them less of a person?
Here's something else to consider. Will pointing fingers or trying to blame someone whose parents are trying to put food on their tables make their situation better? Does gloating that you have money and other people don't somehow make you happy or a better person?
If I were you, I'd be really careful answering that last question. I've seen too many instances where karma struck back at prideful individuals and brought them to their knees.
As the saying goes, "pride goeth before a fall."
We saw that in Mountain Home a few years ago when Micron laid off thousands of workers, many of whom lived here and commuted back and forth to Boise. I knew of at least one of those workers who went from earning very comfortable wages to having to hold down a minimum wage job because they couldn't find work anywhere else.
As the season of thankfulness and charity begins, I'd like to challenge people in this community to take time and focus attention on where it's needed the most -- to help those who don't have the financial resources to help themselves and their families.
It starts by simple acts of charity -- putting a can or two of soup in a donation box or a pocket full of spare change in a collection jar.
It continues by going through everything we own to see if we really need all of this accumulated "stuff" sitting in boxes of our closets to see if it could help someone in dire need.
That spare coat you haven't worn in years because it's no longer "trendy" or "fashionable" could keep a person warm against the harsh Idaho winter this season. A pair of "gently used" mittens and hat your teen can't wear any more will allow a young child to stay comfortable when they walk to and from school.
Over the years, I've seen firsthand how these small acts of kindness and compassion make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. When the pantries of our local food banks started running low, people of all ages took a few minutes out of their lives -- some devoted much more -- to ensure no one went hungry over the holiday season.
Regardless of how much time, food, money or gifts local residents donated, each of these efforts added together to make a huge difference. But perhaps the greatest gift of all was seeing how much people in this community care about one another.
As they dropped off their bags or boxes of donations, they never asked questions. They simply knew someone out there needed the help and responded with an outpouring of support not seen in a long time.
In an odd sort of way, perhaps it reminds us that each of our lives could change unexpectedly for the worse. It also reassures us that others in our community will be there to help pick us up when we stumble -- no questions asked.
Author Jean De La Bruyere once said that, "out of difficulties grow miracles."
Perhaps that's what is needed here. Despite the demand out there, we can ensure everyone is able to find a reason to celebrate the holidays. We can make seemingly impossible a reality -- to create a series of small miracles.
It's a lot better than sitting in a long line or dealing with a lot of pushing and shoving over something we want to buy on Black Friday. It'll also be a lot more rewarding in the long run.
-- Brian S. Orban