Giving thanks, giving back
Many holiday options for those alone, going through tough economic times
As a widow of about seven years with grown children who can’t always visit, Juanita Harrison often is alone.
But frequently being alone doesn’t make Harrison immune to the onset of loneliness she experiences when it comes to spending the holidays by herself, sometimes unable to make herself any sort of holiday meal.
A former MSU employee of about 17 years, Harrison currently lives on the retirement funds of her late husband and sometimes has trouble getting around because of a knee injury.
“I have kids, (but) they have their own families,” Harrison said. “You get lonely … (and) sometimes I don’t always feel up to (cooking a holiday meal).”
That’s what makes the annual Thanksgiving and Christmas meals at the Salvation Army, 525 N. Pennsylvania Ave., in Lansing, so important to Harrison and others in the Greater Lansing community. Not only does it help people, such as Harrison, celebrate the holidays, but it provides an oasis away from the loneliness where they can feel part of the community.
“It makes you feel good,” Harrison said. “You might go there feeling a little down, (and) it puts you in a good mood — you carry that with you.”
Harrison is one of many in the Lansing area who benefits from the increased outpouring of community service from MSU and the surrounding communities during the holiday season.
Times of need
An outpouring of volunteering and community service hardly is rare during the holiday season, said Director of the MSU Student Food Bank Nate Smith-Tyge.
“November and December are our biggest months for donation,” Smith-Tyge said. “It’s the time of the year where people are becoming more aware of those who are less fortunate.”
The donation rates during this time of year often go beyond needs of the season, and about the same number of students use the MSU Student Food Bank during the holiday season as the rest of the year, Smith-Tyge said.
The increase in donations still is hugely appreciated, however, and nonperishable donations collected during this time often are distributed by the food bank the following year, he said.
MSU professor and Executive Director of the Greater Lansing Food Bank Joe Wald said despite the appreciation for the donations, it’s what follows the holiday season that people need to keep in mind.
“There’s a need for volunteering throughout the year,” Wald said. “It’s great to see the economy is coming back, (but) the reality is there are near-record levels of people who need help.”
A giving community
Giving back is nothing new for the Lansing area.
“The Greater Lansing community, including the university … is truly a giving community,” Wald said.
But this is not news to marketing junior Stephanie Rodriguez, who is one of many MSU students making an effort to give back this holiday season.
“It’s important for students to give back because a lot of us are fortunate,” said Rodriguez, who is hosting a canned food drive within the greek community’s honor society, the National Order of Omega. “(It helps) to remind (us) of what we have.”
Rodriguez said not only is it important to give back during the holiday season, but there are options to do so through the university and campus groups.
Some students give back through events with their families, while others, such as Rodriguez, give back through student organizations’ projects.
“During the holidays, these small efforts make a special difference because of the connotation of the holidays,” Rodriguez said. “Very often, these people cannot come together with their families or cannot celebrate the way most of us are lucky enough to do.”
Giving and thanks
Although some people participate in volunteering or community service to help those less fortunate than themselves, Wald said it is important to remember the effects of the recent economic climate.
“Hunger does not discriminate,” Wald said. “(People who were) donors and volunteers are now people who have fallen on hard times and now have a need for our services.”
No matter the time of year or the reason for giving, the appreciation from those helped by community service is all the thanks needed for some people.
Finance sophomore James Berta, who annually helps serve a Thanksgiving meal to Navy sailors and special needs individuals at a church in Chicago, said it’s the sharing of a holiday comfort that makes everything worth it.
Berta said he enjoys being able to loan his phone to the sailors who aren’t allowed to call their families during basic training.
For others involved in community service, such as Capital Area Coordinator for the Salvation Army Alan Hellstrom, the smiling faces of those they have helped is enough reason to keep doing what they do.
“For me, it’s marvelous because of all the smiles,” said Hellstrom, who coordinated the Thanksgiving meal Harrison attended. “Everyone just wanted to talk and thank us for the meal. … They wanted to continue in the feeling.”