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Pauline Lerner


November 26, 2005 at 9:00 AM

Angels we have heard on high
Telling us go out and buy.

Every day, my mailbox is stuffed with Christmas catalogs with “Special Values.” For example:

For years, I’ve felt bad about the annual Christmas gift giving ritual. Gifts are often exchanged between middle class people who can afford everything they really need and some of the things they’d just like. Some of us struggle with trying to dream up something new and different to buy for each other year after year. We struggle to find gifts that we can afford, too. There are so many people who are really in need in the US, the richest nation on earth. Many people who lived in the path of Hurricane Katrina are now homeless. About one quarter of the population here has no health insurance. The budget of the National Endowment for the Arts is steadily being reduced, and some politicians keep trying to eliminate its funding altogether. These are not theoretical considerations for me. I have a friend whose family in New Orleans lost their home and most of their possessions in the hurricane. I have been, and probably will be again, without health insurance. My prescription drugs cost over $1000 a month. I buy pizza and candy from schoolchildren who are raising money for their schools to buy textbooks. I see homeless people sleeping on grates in winter.

This year I’m going to do something I have wanted to do for years: alternate giving. Instead of buying gifts for my friends, I will make donations to charity. Some churches and other organizations have alternate giving fairs, and I went to one last year. People from various charitable organizations were there, and we consumers shopped around and decided who to give money to. I contributed some money towards the purchase of an asthma inhaler. One month’s supply of one kind costs about $175. I know because I use three different kinds.

Pete Seeger once said, “Even though my weight may be no more than that of one grain of sand, I will put my weight where I think it will do the most good, rather than live with a bad conscience.”

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