It seemed odd seeing them in front the supermarket at the time, a little weird hearing that familiar ringing of the bell when it was 70 degrees outside.
But as quickly as the temporary respite from autumn chills disappeared a couple of weeks ago, the reality of the situation facing those less fortunate, and the challenges faced by those trying to help them, set in.
The winter season poses a special challenge to those who don’t have enough food on their tables to feed themselves or their children. But this year, the coronavirus crisis has compounded the problem, as so many more people have lost their jobs, had their hours cut, or lost part-time jobs that they used to supplement their income.
A recent study by AARP New York and other civil rights organizations found that older New Yorkers of color are challenged with housing and food insecurity at far greater rates than their white counterparts due the covid crisis.
Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization, estimates that about 19% of New Yorkers will struggle with putting food on the table by the end of this year, compared to about 11% in 2018. And even when a vaccine becomes prevalent and the covid crisis wanes, the food crisis will be with us a while longer.
Nationwide, as many as one in five households in the U.S. were food insecure by the end of April when the covid crisis first peaked. Two in five households with mothers of children ages 12 and under were among them, according to a study by the Brookings Institute.
With the covid crisis entering its second and perhaps more dangerous wave, hunger will become an even bigger challenge for more families.
And for the organizations that are out there helping them every day, a larger covid crisis means these groups will struggle even harder to meet the needs.
The Salvation Army bell ringers are perhaps the canary in the coal mine, reminding us all of the urgent need faced by our friends and neighbors.
When you’re out shopping for your own groceries in the next days and weeks, purchase a few extra nonperishable items that can be donated to the local food pantry or church or volunteer food-distribution event in your community.
When you see a Salvation Army bell ringer outside a store, don’t go in the other entrance. Walk up to them, thank them for volunteering, and put something in the red kettle — each and every time.
When you’re Christmas shopping, set aside a few dollars of your budget that you might otherwise put toward an extraneous gift, and donate it to your local homeless shelter or community service organization.
Our fellow citizens are struggling mightily with basic needs, more this year than ever.
If you have the means, consider the plight of those who don’t, and answer the bell.