Giving the gift of spirits

Brian Jones
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Various food hampers set up around town to accept donations for “the less fortunate” this Christmas don’t post signs advising, “No alcohol,” so this year I’m giving bottles of wine.

I’m fed up with the food bank ethos. Unfortunately, the widespread disgust over the need for food banks when they emerged a generation ago has disappeared, and they are now accepted as a normal part of modern life.

Going to a seasonal event? Please bring a non-perishable item for the food bank.

Food banks may indeed be a necessary evil, but there is something extremely unsettling about how quickly and easily they became permanently entrenched.

At the Santa Claus parade, you put coins into buckets carried along the route by volunteers, and donate a few food items. But the pickup trucks loaded with bags of Kraft Dinner, cans of waterlogged peas, boxes of Shake ’n’ Bake, etc., are rolling proof that the obesity epidemic among the financially underprivileged continues at full speed.

Making judgments

Concern for “the less fortunate” — a horrible euphemism habitually overused this time of year — apparently doesn’t extend to include corporate and political policies that inevitably add to the ranks of said unfortunates. (See: minimum wage, decades-long argument about. See also: “outsourced,” jobs that could be performed in Canada, but have been moved to Asia.)

But let’s not put a damper on the hamper business.

After all, the fellow whose birthday we celebrate this month said the poor would always be with us. Mind you, he didn’t add, “And it’s their own fault” — a widely held belief.

Attitudes about charity seem to have reverted to the old notion of noblesse oblige, which held that the privileged had a responsibility to be good and to do good deeds. For instance, they had to take care of their peasants, as well as their animals. Which is fine as far as that goes, except it also entailed equating peasants with animals.

Today’s attitudes toward the poor have advanced somewhat. But too often, people facing financial hardship are judged harshly — surely their situation is due to their own laziness, their penchant for taking drugs or drinking too much, their lack of personal responsibility.

Enjoyed by all

Small things might change if more people acknowledged that those living in poverty have work ethics and goals, even desires, just like those living in middle-class suburbs. Such acknowledgement might entail a welcome drop in the number of boxes of KD donated during the Santa Claus parade.

Ideally, we’d all give cash, and the people who run food banks could use it to purchase decent, fresh food for people in need. More than half a century ago, George Orwell wrote that canned vegetables are an abomination of nature and nutrition. He probably would have been disgusted about their collection for food banks.

There are, of course, rare heroes who personally deliver a fresh turkey or two, either to a food bank or to a community or church group compiling Christmas hampers for families in need.

It is with those heroes in mind that I’m donating wine. A festive meal is even better with a glass of half-decent wine, to which millions of middle-class Canadian adults can attest. There’s no reason why a food-hamper turkey shouldn’t come with a bottle. Those of higher financial means might consider being even more generous, and donating, say, brandy or fine Scotch.

Cynics might wail that such an approach merely encourages the alcohol abuse they self-righteously assume is rampant among the less fortunate. On the contrary — it shows that the finer things in life need not be monopolized by the well off, and it passes along the spirit of Christmas.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at

The Telegram. He can be reached at

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Canada, Asia

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Recent comments

  • Carl
    December 12, 2011 - 14:55

    Mr. Jones, instead of giving booze just because you have your own axe to grind, why don't you ask yourself what would best satisfy the actual needs of the food bank's clients, and give accordingly?

  • Abby
    December 10, 2011 - 11:50

    Brian, thank you. You expressed my sentiments perfectly. Let's do something about the root causes of poverty so that people don't have to rely on food banks and so they can reclaim some of their dignity.

    December 09, 2011 - 11:54

    Good article Brian, coming from someone who has been involved with food banks since the late 80's. You are dead right on many points. First, if we got cash rather than food, 30% of which is usually outdated or already opened (cereals, cookies and crackers etc), we could feed the needy much better food than we do. As well, and some people are finally getting the point, that if you donate cash through your church, or directly to a food bank you will get a receipt that you can claim on your income tax. As well, the vast majority that we serve are in need for many reasons, some age, some medical, some unable to find work, and we do help the working poor, they do exist. There are many seniors who are just unable to make it on CPP alone, and have to make decisions on whether to eat, heat or medicate. There are many who are in poor health so survive on Social Services, and we have many who are trying to cope on minimum wage while raisinf a family, and there are so many single parents today too. the vast majority of food bank clients would rather work, and do not for good reason, there is very little abuse of the system here. Also, the euphemism " The poor will always be with us" is also overused and is actually out of context with what Jesus was saying, but that's another topic. We will always need food banks, they were needed long before they came into being, my fondest dream is that some day we will close our doors because we are no longer really needed.