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Our Views: Filling local stockings this season
By shopping at area businesses, donating to nonprofits, we enrich our community during holidays
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. Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; and Managing Editor Keith Albertso

With the holiday shopping season upon us, it’s a good time to be reminded that the season of conspicuous consumption should mean a little bit more.

That’s a hard message to sell when we’re still in the wake of Gray Thursday, then Black Friday and we’re hours from Cyber Monday. Seems every year someone devises a new clever nickname to describe ways to turn piles of our hard-earned cash into fancy electronics, clothes and other baubles.

With Thanksgiving falling later in the calendar this year, the Christmas shopping window is less than a month, and the end of the year is racing toward us. The season for giving is a key time for local nonprofits who are hoping those of us who drop a small fortune at the malls will send a little bit their way as well.

The need for charitable giving has grown in recent years during the economic downturn. Many of our fellow North Georgians remain out of work. Though the jobless rate has steadied, it’s a misleading barometer; many have stopped looking for work and others are underemployed in jobs that don’t provide enough income to adequately care for their families.

Area food pantries are struggling to meet demand despite a healthy supply of food. The Georgia Mountain Food Bank, which provides food for area pantries and other agencies, has seen a fast turnaround despite a rise in donations.

“It is not that the food is down; we’re up in food coming in,” said Kay Blackstock, executive director of Georgia Mountain Food Bank. “It’s the amount that is going out that has increased dramatically, so that’s what the problem is.”

That need could increase soon if Congress follows through on a cut in federal food stamps. Many who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will have to stretch their limited resources even further, making it harder to put nutritious food on the table.

Here is where community agencies can make a difference by filling that gap, and why they rely on donations. The need is great all year long, but the holidays can emphasize the gulf between those who have plenty and those who do not.

We saw that displayed in the number of folks who both volunteered and were served at the Thanksgiving community dinners held at Good News at Noon and the Gainesville Masonic Lodge by Project J.O.Y. Some 1,000 needy people were dished up a plate of holiday cheer. But their challenges will grow in the weeks ahead when the cold weather makes it doubly tough on those without enough food or proper shelter.

In addition to the Georgia Mountain Food Bank and other agencies filling food needs, the holidays are prime time for donations to the Salvation Army, the Jaycees’ Empty Stocking Fund, Toys for Tots and the United Way. Contributions to those organizations, plus other nonprofits and church-related charitable efforts, can provide a bit of holiday spirit for those who struggle to get through the day.

And when we do get around to filling our loved ones’ Christmas stockings, we can help our communities another way by offering a lift to local businesses and their workers.

The Shop Local Business effort Saturday was one push to steer consumers out of the malls and into neighborhood shops. Spreading your Christmas gift budget around helps benefit business owners and their workers who live on our streets, some of whom are struggling as well.

These businesses provide jobs to area residents and fill local government coffers with their tax dollars, funding our schools and other public needs. When we shop close by, the money we spend is, in turn, spent locally as well, keeping our area economy robust as we head into 2014.

If you love where you live and you want to make a difference, spread the holiday spirit by helping those nearby who need it most. When we give to area charities and patronize local businesses, we’re investing in the people who live and work here by keeping more of our money in the pockets of those who share this little slice of heaven we call home.

That makes life better and more prosperous for us all, during the holidays and beyond.

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