OPINION: While the holiday season inspires kindness to the less fortunate, they need help year-round

Who remembers Easy-Bake Ovens? Impossibly expensive ovens for little children to make chemical filled cookies in an oven with a lightbulb for baking.

Well, I remember.

When Santa Claus came to one of the shelters my family and I were staying at when I was a child, an Easy-Bake Oven was my present. A very memorable present I might add. I remember playing with it in our small kitchen that had cement floors, and a cookie popping out the end that was as thin as paper and as pale as me.

One year I received a music player of sorts that I would play in my room next to my bed. That shelter was interesting and also had cement floors throughout – not sure why that was a common theme. I have many memories associated with the holidays and homelessness.

Growing up in and out of homeless shelters for most of my childhood has brought these types of memories into my life. Moments I used to think were good, but the older I have gotten, the more frustrated I become at the thought of them.

It shouldn’t only be this time of year when those in need receive a bit extra, and let’s face it, it’s not extra. Shopping malls have people ringing bells outside for donations, toy drives, clothing drives, all of these to make those in need have a better holiday.

“I think large non-for-profits target us when we’re in the spirit of the holidays yes,” said Shereese Goodchild, the original founder of the Chicago Homeless Rescue Mission. “Although, I encourage people to support smaller or local and privately owned movements. Those are the ones who will be fighting for change usually locally in your community.”

I can see the appeal, truly. But coming from someone who experienced it firsthand for years, I grew tired of seasonal generosity. The needs my family had weren’t seasonal. I don’t mean to come off as ungrateful because that Easy-Bake Oven lit up my eyes instantly, but once the baking packets that came with it ran out, my oven was retired.

“It was fun and sad at the same time,” said Elena Neal, a junior at DePaul who was homeless for a time. “Because it was nice to see all these people, especially the donations in the shelter that we got around Christmas time, but it was also sad just remembering that we were in a shelter and not surrounded by our families in our house like we had before the shelter.”

Those in need are blessed and grateful for this surge in generosity during this time of year and charities depend on the generosity of Americans. However, the need doesn’t end when the holidays do, and charities could use the generosity of others year round.

“It seems that Christmas and the holidays and Thanksgiving are time of celebration, and recollection of memories both good and bad,” Shereese said. “Almost like an ending of the year celebratory appreciation day. It’s great for us to do that definitely, but holidays and every other day should be celebrated, because we live in a free country, free of war.”

Food banks for example, experience their greatest need during the summer months, when school is out, and children are no longer receiving free or reduced-cost lunches at school according to Move for Hunger.

In Illinois alone, 10,643 people are homeless and hundreds of thousands are throughout the U.S., according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“Now is the time to give year-round, and not just because it’s a holiday,” Shereese said. “It’s cruel to pretend there isn’t a problem. At the end of the day, we’re all humans just going through life, hoping to meet as many nice people as possible.”

When I was in elementary school and middle school, I was a low-income student and because of that, I received care-packages. I was able to pick shoes and a coat out of bins of donations, as well as receiving hygiene products. I was in third grade. I vividly remember  being taken to Old Navy and having the school buy me new clothes. In sixth grade, I got one pair of pants that were a little big so that I would “grow into them.”

It was not during the holiday season when I received these either, and that is something I want people to realize. I didn’t stop needing pants and shoes after the holiday season passed. I loved the effort and the care that was shown to us during this time of year, but the effort that was given before and after were just as needed, if not more.

“Since the holidays are the ‘time of giving’, people probably only associate giving with that time, so they feel guilty realizing they hadn’t been giving the rest of the year,” Neal said. “Or they may just be selfish during the rest of the year and feel charitable during holidays. I believe that there are people who only do it for show, but I also truly believe there’s people who do it out of the kindness of their heart.”

Generosity should be year-round. Whether it be a bag of clothes, old furniture, toys or especially food, give them yearly. The holidays are a wonderful time of year, but the need and want for basic life necessities don’t go away when Santa does.