As the holiday season begins — let’s pretend that Christmas decorations have not been up for months — with the nation’s celebration of Thanksgiving later this week, it is once again time to remember our neighbors who are doing without.
We have need and want among us all year round, of course. New Mexico just learned that it has the highest gap between the well-off and the poor of any state in the country. A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute released earlier this month showed that the richest 5 percent of households in New Mexico had average incomes that were almost 17 times higher than the bottom 20 percent of people from 2008-10. For the poorest 20 percent of households, average income is just more than $16,000. For the top 5 percent, it’s more than $270,000. Our state’s poverty lives in the shadow of great wealth.
It is customary for people who are comfortable to reach a hand out during the holidays to those who struggle. At The Santa Fe New Mexican, it is our tradition to run the Empty Stocking Fund so the community can gather together and help. The annual holiday giving tradition kicks off this Friday, on the day after Thanksgiving, and will continue throughout the holidays. Each day, readers will hear stories of their neighbors in need. The Santa Fe Community Foundation helps us gather the money and take applications so that pressing needs can be met. Donations are targeted for emergency assistance, whether to cover rent, repair a car or pay a heating bill. The fund will help our neighbors throughout Northern New Mexico, right here in Santa Fe and in Rio Arriba, San Miguel and Los Alamos counties. This year, in addition to gifts of money, the Empty Stocking Fund is asking for donations of services, too. People who can repair roofs or plumbing, do home fixes, or share a load of firewood also can assist others.
The 2012 Empty Stocking Fund is online, too, making it simple to donate or apply. Visit www.santafecf.org, and click on the Empty Stocking Fund link. There, you can apply for assistance or make a donation. People who don’t have access to a computer can visit all three branches of the public library (the Main Library downtown, Oliver La Farge and Southside Branch) to apply, or stop by the Hopewell Community Center, 1800 Espinacitas St.
Giving, of course, should not be restricted just to the holidays. It’s just that doing without in a time of excess — not to mention when the weather is cold — is particularly trying. What we hope is that a gift given at Christmas serves as a jump-start, both for the person being helped and the giver. By helping our neighbor in this season of good cheer, people can make the practice of giving a habit, something to return to in March or July and again in the fall. That way, as a community, we will work together to ensure that all of our citizens have what they need every day of the year.