Rooftops, full bellies, and prayers (blessings 4-6)

We’re counting our blessings each day this week in celebration of Thanksgiving. Blessings #4, 5, and 6: for rooftops over our heads, food in our bellies, and prayers for provision for those who currently endure without these basics.

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The holiday season has officially begun. Weeks before Thanksgiving, Christmas ads appeared on TV and in newspapers. Last week, I was in New York City, where the window displays and Christmas lights are an art form, which delights native New Yorkers and the thousands of tourists who flock there to experience this special time of year. I confess that I feel like a kid again -- filled with wonder and awe -- when I get to visit New York at this time of year.

Sometimes the quieter holiday -- Thanksgiving -- gets lost in the Christmas excitement. But still, this week, people across the United States will come together with friends and family to eat their delicious Thanksgiving dinners.

At the end of the meal, we’ll say how we ate too much and will have to ramp up our workouts to get rid of those extra calories.

But that’s not the case for everyone in the United States.

Doing anything to help

Eight-year-old Yalexa Mendez waited in line with her mother, Yakira Pascasio, outside the Manhattan Bible Church on a frigid Saturday morning in November, just to get something to eat.

Eight-year-old Yalexa Mendez sat on the sidewalk outside the Manhattan Bible Church on a frigid Saturday morning, holding a place in line for herself and her mother. When I asked Yalexa what she was here for today, she laughed and said, “For eating.”

For the past few years, a privately-run food bank from Chicago has rolled into the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan with a truckload of food, including canned goods, meats, and vegetables. Their first stop is the Love Kitchen, a soup kitchen and food pantry at the Manhattan Bible Church.

Ironically, there’s a grocery store right across the street -- but for those who can’t afford to pay their bills, the thought of shopping there is out of the question.

Yalexa and her mother, Yakira Pascasio, 33, arrived in this country from the Dominican Republic about six months ago and are living with Yakira’s mother, who is elderly and ill.

“My mother is already of age," Yakira said. "I’d basically do anything for her right now.”

Even if that means standing outside in a line that stretches around the corner just to make sure they have enough to eat.

No-win choices

Maria Loranzo, 39, also waited in line for food at the Manhattan Bible Church with her 18-month-old grandson, Christian.

Maria Loranzo, 39, was in that same line along with her daughter, son, and grandson.

“I don’t have too much food at home,” she said.

Maria works as a home attendant, but she usually only gets called for about 14 to 20 hours of work each week. That’s not enough to support the seven people who live in her one-bedroom apartment. Whenever Maria hears about donations around the area, she makes sure that she’s there.

Maria’s first priority is making sure that the rent is paid so her family always has a place to stay. But on her salary, there’s not much money, if any, left over. She often has impossible choices to make -- feed her family or pay the money to get to her job. This just perpetuates the vicious cycle in which she finds herself trapped. She gets fewer hours at work -- yet there’s more money to be spent.

The new 2010 census data on Americans in poverty states that households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children -- 20.2 percent compared to 11.7 percent.

Maria’s son, Jefferson, 9, has experienced that insecurity firsthand. He says that being hungry makes his stomach ache.

“It’s real hard for me to see my children go to bed sometimes with hunger,” Maria said. “I’d rather have no food in my body to make sure that my children eat something, than to go to bed with something in my stomach.”

Making tough choices

Thousands of Americans who are willing to work hard still have to make these tough choices to feed their children, keep a roof over their heads, pay the electric bill, or keep the heat running during the dead of winter.

For them, the holidays can be especially difficult because what they are not able to provide for their children is made all the more apparent by the opulence around them. They’re like kids with their faces pressed against those Christmas window displays, knowing that this world is beyond their grasp.

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You can help make this holiday season a brighter one for struggling families right here in the United States, like Yakira, Maria, and their children. Make a donation to help provide food for American families affected by job loss, disaster, homelessness, or other hardship.

Read related posts on blessings 1, 2, and 3: Feeling gratitude — from the heart, not the spoken word (Blessings #1 and #2); and Blessing #3: Compassionate kids.

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