Goodbye , compassion

hello, crazed shoppers

November 25, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

So one day Americans are thanking the Big Kahuna in the sky for all those blessings and for things like love and family, and then the next we're trying to run each other over with our shopping carts.

Isn't there something askew about this picture?

The Rodrigues-Smith sisters think so. Monica, 23, is a senior mass communications major at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. Her younger sister Amanda, 20, attends school in the same neck of the woods. Amanda is a junior political science and journalism major at -- Maryland Terrapins basketball fans, get ready to hold your noses -- the University of North Carolina.

You've read about Amanda before in this column. She spent the late spring and most of the summer volunteering in Kweisi Mfume's campaign for U.S. Senate. Amanda also served as a counselor at a sports/career camp for teens in East Baltimore, and as a counselor for the Hugh O'Brian Youth Foundation leadership seminar held at Mount Saint Mary's College in May.

Both sisters grew up in Baltimore and now live in Baltimore County. They came home for the Thanksgiving break and had their traditional family dinner Wednesday night instead of Thursday.

"Our mom had to work Thanksgiving," Monica explained. It was after dinner Wednesday night that Monica told Amanda of her idea about what the sisters should do on Thanksgiving.

"We decided that instead of staying at home, we'd go to a homeless shelter and volunteer," Monica said. "We felt like we were not being productive on that day."

So after they dropped their mom off at work in downtown Baltimore, the sisters Rodrigues-Smith headed to My Sister's Place and Our Daily Bread to see if the volunteers at those places could use their services. Amanda and Monica soon learned something about the business of volunteering on Thanksgiving.

It's best to start early.

They'd taken their mom to her job in the afternoon. By the time they arrived at the places serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless, they found the food had already been served.

"We failed at volunteering for the day," Amanda noted.

Ah, but their hearts were in the right place. So much so that both sisters started asking questions about what homeless folks would do for a real dinner on Thanksgiving. A meal served up between the hours of noon and 2 p.m. sounds so much like ... well, like lunch.

"It defeats the whole purpose of Thanksgiving dinner because people will be hungry at night," Amanda said. "And it was raining and cold on Thanksgiving. Where are these people going to go after 12 o'clock?"

"They might get hungry again by the evening," Monica added. Then both sisters mentioned something that maybe only few people think about. I know I didn't think about it before they brought it up. It's the notion that by just feeding the homeless and then sending them on their way, we might be filling a physical need but not an emotional and spiritual one.

"Thanksgiving is a day where the family gets together and sits around and has conversation," Monica said. Some observers will note that the homeless eating in shelters can engage in conversation, but that's not quite the same as when families get together.

"That's that void," Amanda said of the emotional and spiritual needs of the homeless not being addressed -- and which might be part of the reason they're homeless in the first place. "The main objective is to feed as many people as possible. But homeless people like to talk. But it's not like `people' coming in [to the shelters]. It's like `the homeless' coming in. I'm sure the homeless were grateful. But is doing enough really enough?"

The Rodrigues-Smith sisters are just as worried -- perhaps more worried -- about what happens the day after Thanksgiving, as well as our failure to address the emotional and spiritual needs of the homeless on Thanksgiving.

That would be the day called Black Friday. (A name that seems to conflict with "Black Monday," the day the stock market crashed in 1929.) Yesterday was the day when Christmas shopping started. It's also the day when some shoppers go insane.

"To have mobs of people topple and trample over each other to get into Wal-Mart?" Amanda asked. "I'm not making this up. I saw the footage [on the news]. People in other parts of the world are toppling and trampling over each other for causes like freedom and justice."

Monica finds a certain irony in Black Friday coming the day after Thanksgiving.

"We've just finished saying we're thankful for nonmaterial things, and less than 24 hours later, we're waiting in lines to pick up material things. Are we raising a whole generation of people who are obsessed with material things?"

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