Holiday Shopping, and Hunger & Homelessness Week

December 8, 2011

Most of us are familiar with the phrase, "Men and women in the service of others." It's a key part of Georgetown's mission statement and an integral aspect of its identity as a Jesuit institution.

The call to service is particularly strong around Thanksgiving and the winter holidays as people reflect on the good things in their lives. As the chairs of Homeless Outreach Programs and Education, a community service group within the Center for Social Justice, we have been able to see firsthand how powerful service can be. However, in recent years, the holiday emphasis on the spirit of community and giving has been overshadowed by a competitive drive for material things. 

The real question, though, is why students should take time out of their busy schedules to help the homeless, a group with which most probably don't have much contact? What drives the two of us, at least, is the ability to connect with another human being and directly see the impact of our efforts in someone else's life, as cliched as it might sound. 

The week before Thanksgiving, we hosted Hunger and Homelessness Week on campus. Our experiences during week reaffirmed our belief in the generosity of Georgetown's community, and of humankind in general. We went home for Thanksgiving on this high note, with hope in our hearts. 

Yet, after the generosity of Hunger and Homelessness Week we were confronted with the selfishness that characterizes Black Friday and the new "Cyber Monday" spending frenzies. 

Picking out the most repulsive Black Friday commercial is hard to do. It could Target's, with the heroine decked out in a red sweatsuit and pearls, doing sit-ups and sprints to prepare for the 4 a.m. dash. Or the Best Buy commercial that proclaims, "Game on, Santa." These and other commercials present the idea to viewers that shoppers are not just shopping for their own sakes; instead, they are competing against each other for ultimate consumer glory. Black Friday is not for the faint of heart. 

It seems that some people took these ads to heart this year, like the woman in California who pepper-sprayed other shoppers or the West Virginia shoppers who blindly stepped over a man who collapsed in a Target. These incidents and the frenzy surrounding Black Friday each year show that people forget the message of Thanksgiving before the turkey has been fully digested. After breaking bread with Grandma, people head to the mall and trample other people's grandmothers for flat screen TVs. Just because someone can't train up for Black Friday like Miss Target doesn't mean they "deserve" the items any less. 

Similarly, just because a man, woman, or child is homeless doesn't mean he or she deserves any less respect as a human being. After a week of events recognizing hunger and homelessness, the greatest lesson to take away is that the easiest thing we as Georgetown students can do is treat homeless individuals as fellow human beings. This doesn't necessarily mean giving money, but can be as simple as a smile or eye contact. These simple acts are free and can be given without having to wait in line at midnight after Thanksgiving. As women and men for others, we should strive to make these personal connections with the people in our very own neighborhood who have been pushed to the ground in the Black Friday of life and just need a little help and support standing up. 

Don't get us wrong; we love good deals as much as the next person. But perhaps as the holiday season progresses we should consider other forms of giving, whether in time or money, to those less fortunate than us. 

This blog entry was submitted by members of the Georgetown Homeless Outreach Programs and Education, a President's Challenge student partner.

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Holiday Shopping, and Hunger & Homelessness Week