Opinion

Kyle Troutman: The spirit of the season

Saturday, December 5, 2020

When I was a young’n, maybe 9 or 10, one of my mother’s best friends had a single daughter, and one December, she announced a change in her Christmas gifting protocols.

That year, she declared that because Jesus only received three gifts on the first Christmas, her daughter would likewise receive only three gifts. There was a lot of dynamics at play there, like the friend’s strong Christian faith and her daughter’s knack for finding trouble, but the one dynamic I did not see as a child may have been the most critical — finances.

Fast forward just 3 or 4 years and I was in my early-teens, graduating from the early Christmas Eve bed time to being the one helping my parents fill out the tree skirt with gifts cleverly hidden throughout the house. I even got to help Santa get a couple early boxes under there before he plopped through our chimney, ate our cookies and fed the carrots to his reindeer.

My father handed me each parcel and I arranged them around our ornamented fir with precision and care. When all the presents were placed, I looked at the haul, compared it in my head to previous years and asked a question I still regret to this day, “Is that it?”

No matter how innocent I intended the comment to be, it hurt my father.

“Is this not enough for you?” he asked rhetorically. “I work really hard to give you kids a good Christmas. It would be nice if you appreciated it.”

I went to be shortly thereafter with the weight of all the guilt in the world on my shoulders. When my siblings and I opened gifts in the morning, the star of the show was a Nintendo Gamecube, which had just been released a few months prior.

As excited as I was about the new gaming system, I felt even worse about what I had said the night before, and watching my younger siblings play it first gave me a greater perspective and respect for how difficult it can be to deliver a happy Christmas.

I was lucky to grow up with parents that were able to afford the delights of technology and the comfortable middle class lifestyle — but even some of the people closest to me did not have the same luxury.

As Christmas quickly approaches and 2020 (thankfully) nears its end, community groups and schools are ramping up efforts to make sure every child in the bi-county area has a magical December.

In Barry County, the median household income is $41,463, and 21 percent of the 35,886 residents — 1 out of every 5 — live in poverty. That’s 50 percent above the state and national poverty rates, 14.2 percent and 14.1 percent, respectively.

Lawrence County, with a population of 38,350, fares better but is still above state and national rates. Median household income is $43,373, and 16.9 percent of residents are below the poverty line.

Where these numbers really hit hard are for children under 18. In Barry County, 33 percent of children live in poverty — 1 out of every 3 — and in Lawrence County, the same figure checks in at 28 percent.

For these children and their families, Merry Christmases may rely on the help of family, friends and neighbors. Fortunately, places to help are plentiful for those who are able to spread happiness.

In Barry County, there’s the Share Your Christmas campaign sponsored by the Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation. It reaches anywhere from 300-400 families per year, providing gifts children would otherwise not receive.

Schools throughout the bi-county area also put up Angel Trees, where people looking to help can “adopt” an angel and buy gifts anonymously for those in need. Many high schools also host Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas events to raise funds for programs supporting local impoverished children.

A multitude of other organizations find ways to be involved, as well. Crosslines in Monett offers food baskets and toys for hundreds of families in the community. Multiple police departments and sheriff’s offices participate in the Shop with a Cop program, a chance to give children in need a Merry Christmas while simultaneously building community relations.

There are also private efforts, such as the 43-years-strong Linn Thornton Toy Drive, which last year delivered gifts to about 400 area children.

Herrin Animal Hospital in Cassville has also hosted its own toy drive for more than two decades, donating its annual hail to the Share Your Christmas effort.

I am sure there are other efforts locally that I have left out of this list, which goes to show how strong our communities are when it comes to philanthropy.

If you are reading this, I hope you find it in your heart to make a difference for at least one child in need. This year especially, with the pandemic taking its toll on pocketbooks, we should be extra vigilant to make sure no families are left behind.

As Charles Dickens said, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of The Monett Times since 2014. In 2017, he was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers. He may be reached at 417-235-3135 or editor@monett-times.com.