Saturday, November 29, 2008

"What You Did for My Least Brothers..."

Thought your Thanksgiving was crowded? Well, chances are it wasn't anything like the turkey dinner served up by Las Vegas' Catholic Charities on Thursday... for no less than 2,500:
Cooks started warming the food at 2:30 a.m. Thursday, but the meal had actually been in preparation since September. That's how long it takes to ready 6,000 pounds of turkey, 800 pounds of potatoes, 700 pounds of dressing, 2,200 ounces of cranberry sauce and 2,000 pieces of pie.

One man, who declined to give his name, relished the abundance. Once he cleaned his own plate, he gladly accepted the leftovers from another at the table, and tore into a thick chunk of turkey with his hands.

"I ain't eaten in four or five days," he explained.

The packed dining hall filled mostly with men -- some from the streets or shelters, others from residential programs at Catholic Charities or the nearby Salvation Army or Las Vegas Mission complexes.

They were served by about 150 volunteers, among them first-timer Barb Norton of Las Vegas, a retiree who wants to "give back service to others."

"Thanksgiving is a day that can change their mind-set," she said. "They know that they can be off the streets and be served by others.

"Some of them even had smiles on their faces when they came in."
It's no accident that the Pope's repeated pointers on "concrete charity" as the heart of Christian love have been emerging in the face of these days' monumental economic collapse; no agency in the world provides more relief and nourishment in more places than the church he heads.

In no shortage of its mission-field, though, the downturn has led to a lack of funding for Catholic Charities and its ministries just as those very services find themselves drawn upon -- in some places, deluged -- all the more.

For all the joy and light of the coming season, this time around more of our neighbors will be going without, or with much less than they had last year. An hour or two at a nearby shelter or soup kitchen, a couple gifts for a program that gets a simple toy or a winter coat to an underprivileged kid, or a donation to help keep these in existence and able to keep serving wouldn't just remind us anew of what's really important, but it'd help bring the gift of Christmas itself to the good folks on hard times who need it most.

Remember, too, that when He comes, the crown of Advent doesn't show up in the places that are indifferent, proud, pristine or grand, but where He's least expected, most wanted and where the hope and love He brings are most longed for -- before any others, He comes to the poor, the heartbroken, the outcast and seemingly forgotten.

Wherever we might be, our local Catholic Charities and the untold thousands they serve are ready and waiting for each of us to lend a helping hand this Advent (and beyond)... especially this year, to the extent each of us are able, let's not let God's closest ones down.

PHOTO: Getty Images