Next Thursday, I will join millions of families and friends across America in gathering around tables full of delicious, colorful food, with warm lights, festive decorations and the spark of holiday excitement that ignites during this time of year.
Recently, though, I found that the arrival of Thanksgiving also brings along a tinge of sadness. It’s hard to think about the holiday of plenty without also recognizing that many families in our community struggle to make ends meet and will encounter significant challenges to pull together enough resources to celebrate this special American holiday. At a time when we hope that the greatest stress of the day should be which relative brings the pumpkin pie or whether the turkey is dried out, the reality is that Thanksgiving won’t be very joyous for many Americans this year and has not been a joyous celebration over the past few difficult years.
Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday for many people. In addition to the family dynamics that most have to navigate during holidays, the financial ramifications of holidays can be overwhelming. The food and the decorations are the obvious ingredients for a Thanksgiving meal, and they clearly have a significant price tag. But many other things also have to fall into place to make everything come together on Thanksgiving day — a house to meet in, electricity to light the rooms and run the kitchen appliances, money for groceries and a community of people to invite in.
For many in our community, Thanksgiving Day is out of reach — and not only because of a lack of food. One lost job can certainly result in food insecurity. But it can also lead to unpaid bills, repairs that never get taken care of, isolation from others due to shame and embarrassment, and an inability to feel joy around holidays and other special occasions. The impact of financial distress can be broad and far-reaching.
Some of our most vulnerable Pittsburgh neighbors — seniors, people with disabilities, the unhoused — can struggle particularly during holidays as their limited finances may further magnify the differences they often feel between themselves and the larger society. These “special” times of the year can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation and increase levels
of stress that were already higher than average.
But what we are also seeing is that the financial struggle is hitting the middle class really hard. For so many families who feel that they do have money to put food on the table, the rising costs of food, gas and other necessities is limiting their flexibility with other needs — and that will impact what they are able to do to celebrate Thanksgiving and other holidays this year.
Fortunately, holidays are when the giving spirit in our city really comes alive.
There is a long list of organizations and faith-based groups like JFCS that distribute Thanksgiving food items and meals. Our greater community is already finding ways to support food insecure individuals and struggling families so that they can have the ability to enjoy the holiday.
If you want to start getting involved in helping out your neighbors this Thanksgiving, there are plenty of opportunities: You can volunteer with an organization that is hosting a meal, help distribute food or donate Thanksgiving meal items to your local pantry.
Please take Thanksgiving as a starting point. How will you support our neighbors the day after Thanksgiving?
Food is not the only need people have — and the distribution of food isn’t the only way people are being helped in our community. Every stable household requires many critical needs — a job, education, utilities, medical care and so many others. You can take the next step and start talking to your friends, neighbors and relatives about the importance of our community’s assistance programs; and you can write letters to your local representatives, urging them to support critical safety net services especially during tough economic times.
As many of us enjoy our own Thanksgiving celebrations this year, please take some of that warm, festive spirit and carry it over to help neighbors through the upcoming year. And by doing so, we strengthen the kind, connected Pittsburgh community that we so deeply cherish. PJC
Jordan Golin, Psy.D., is president and CEO of JFCS Pittsburgh, a proud founding member of JFunds, alongside Hebrew Free Loan, Jewish Assistance Fund, Jewish Scholarship Service and Israel Travel Grants to help people in need this season and all year long.