Janet Mills: Prioritize people over presents

We witness the last Halloween Jack-o’-lanterns flicker out and it’s as though a switch flips and suddenly the holiday season is upon us.

It’s the time of year when stores transform overnight. Halloween candy goes up for sale and the holiday shopping fervor kicks in. Suddenly, all the stores are decked out and it’s like a shopping frenzy starts.

We are urged by the bombardment of advertisements online and on TV to jump on the best sales and capture the best deals. The inescapable urge to acquire, to buy, and to shift our focus to holiday gifting takes over.

It is hard not to get caught up in the excitement. Being a grandmother who lives quite a distance away from my grandkids, I have this strong desire to make Christmas special for them. Even though we’re far apart, the bond with my grandchildren is incredibly important to me.

I realize that staying connected with the trends and technology they’re into these days is a way for me to bridge the physical gap between us. I want them to know that, despite the miles, I’m here, I care, and I’m excited to be a part of their lives.

I will try to research trends and hopefully come up with just the right popular toys of the season. I have my eyes on a Margot Robbie Barbie doll and a new reboot of the 1990s interactive Furby.

Distracted by the whirlwind and gratification of shopping, we can lose sight of the downside to our consumption habits. It is natural to prioritize our immediate family and ourselves over broader social concerns.

Consumer culture generates a powerful influence upon our behavior. It can blind us to the fact that there are people out there who face daily challenges that far exceed our holiday shopping lists.

For them, this season can be isolating and daunting, a time when the gap between the haves and the have-nots becomes painfully apparent.

The stark reality is that while I’m scurrying to buy gifts and decorate my home, there are individuals and families out there who are struggling to make ends meet.

These neighbors of ours can’t afford even the bare essentials to provide for their households. For them, it isn’t an issue of whether or not they can afford gifts for Christmas. It is an issue of whether or not they can stay warm and heat their homes.

Do they have enough food in the house to prepare a meal tonight for dinner? It’s a thought that gnaws at me, reminding me that my excitement is intertwined with the privilege I hold.

It is easy to become isolated in our own bubbles and not see the challenges that people outside our immediate circles are dealing with. We can allow a layer of compassion fatigue to fog our perception.

The sheer scale of issues we currently see in the media related to poverty, mental illness, drug abuse, and other social problems can be overwhelming. We might feel helpless to make a difference and desire to look in a different direction in the face of such large societal issues.

Opening up our awareness can allow the holiday season to begin to feel different. It’s not just about the dazzling decorations and the exchange of gifts. It’s about recognizing our shared humanity, acknowledging the struggles of those less fortunate, and extending a hand in compassion and support.

It’s about remembering that the greatest gift we can give is not always found in a wrapped box but in the act of caring, giving, and reaching out to others who need help.

As I embark on the holiday season, I’m reminded to strike a balance between the joyful festivities and a deep sense of responsibility. It’s about finding ways to give back, to be there for those who are dealing with poverty, isolation, and hardship, and to ensure that my focus is not just on myself but on the well-being of all members of our community.

1 John 3:17-18 (NIV): “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Janet Mills is the director of Cassville Pantry, located at 800 W. 10th St. in Cassville. She may be reached at cassvillepantry@ gmail.com or 417-846 7871.