'Tis the season to be jolly and generous

This week, as we huddle around our fireplaces, Christmas trees, menorahs, Yule logs, or just an oven filled with treats cooked on our vacations, it’s also an opportune time to think about those who don’t have family to gather with them around a tree; who don’t have heat, let alone a fireplace; who can’t afford candles or to pay to keep their lights on; or who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

The holidays are traditionally a time during which many of us spare a quarter for the charity bell-ringers, donate a can to a food drive or make a trip to a retirement community to sing a carol , and we are thankful for those who do so. But the holidays aren’t the only time of the year when people are in need, and it’s also a good time to resolve to be mindful of the less-fortunate and to give of ourselves throughout the year.

In a community where the signature home is a beach house and fine dining is to be found a stone’s throw from home, it’s easy forget that there are those in need in our midst. Your neighbor may be out of work or working themselves to the bone to make ends meet. Their cupboard may be bare. The lady who lives across the street may not have anyone coming to visit her this year, because airfare has gotten so expensive.

The couple down the street may be dealing with an illness that leaves one of them taking care of the other 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without a break. The kid who gets on the bus in front of your house may not have clean clothes to wear or shoes without holes. Their parents may be struggling to care for a child with special needs. And, even though you don’t see them, there may be a homeless person trying desperately to keep warm in the woods nearby.

These are all easy situations to overlook. The needs of others are often invisible. But it is when we are reminded most of the bounty with which we are blessed that we should also be reminded of those who have little or none. So, this week, as you finish the holiday shopping or sit back from your feast, give some thought to what you can do, both as 2011 comes to an end and throughout 2012, to help your neighbor and the desperate stranger who could, under other circumstances, be you.

Call up a retirement community to see if they would like you to come visit residents. Plan to donate to a food bank, not once a year but all year long. Offer to help out at Jusst Souup. Pass along that gift card to a homeless shelter or to the neighbor who may be struggling. Donate to a heating fund. Offer to help the mom of the autistic kid down the street. or the wife of the man with cancer. Take the lady across the street a casserole and sit with her a while. She probably has some stories to tell.

We feel blessed by you, our readers and friends, each and every day, and we hope those blessings are extended to bring joyful light to the lives of everyone, this holiday season and beyond.