It’s Act III of the triannual postal inundation — the third time this year that our mailbox will be stuffed with holiday greeting cards. To everyone who plans to write my address on a greeting card: Thank you for thinking of me, I appreciate your thoughtfulness. But please do not send a card. Not for Chanukah or Pesach or Rosh HaShanah. Please give your card money to soup kitchens and food banks.
I do not want to offend anyone, but I have to confess that when I see the holiday greeting cards — especially the ones with the beautiful embossed print, with silver-foil paper lining the classy envelopes that weigh too much for a first-class stamp — I do not think that it was nice that someone thought of me. I think: "Someone could have had a bowl of really good soup for what this cost."
The U.S. Postal Service expects to deliver ‘0 billion pieces of mail — cards, letters, catalogues, packages, magazines — between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.
I do not want greeting cards to or from me to be part of that mix. Not when people are hungry. And they are hungry in one of 10 American households. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently reported that 35.5 million people – including 1′.6 million children – live in households that "experience hunger or the risk of hunger."
As we celebrated Thanksgiving last week, food banks across the country reported they were facing critical shortages because of the increased need for food. America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s food-bank network, estimated that ‘4 million to ‘7 million people turned to food banks for aid last year. Meanwhile, the volume of surplus food commodities donated to food pantries by the USDA declined more than 70 percent in the last three years because of a strong agriculture economy. Everyone who buys groceries knows that food prices are rising. It hurts our families, and it hurts the food pantries.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors reported that requests for emergency food assistance increased an average of 7 percent in ‘006. This was not simply a crisis of the unemployed, but one that struck working adults who were faced with higher housing and medical expenses.
And then there is the shameful hidden hunger among the elderly, many of whom quietly depend on soup kitchens, senior centers, and Meals on Wheels for their meal of the day.
Meanwhile, there is the greeting card industry, which makes it easy for us to make others feel good, feel better, be congratulated, be amused, for a few dollars. A few years ago, the Greeting Card Association, the industry trade group, released a cheery, if self-serving, statement. "In a society that is constantly bombarded with technological advances, some traditions never seem to go out of style," the association said. "In fact, despite the billions of e-mails that circle the globe each day, 9′ percent of consumers are planning to purchase paper [holiday] greeting cards."
Americans buy about 7 billion greeting cards each year, worth about $7.5 billion in retail sales, according to the association. I have no idea how many are for Jews on Jewish holidays, or for the intermarried. Yes, they are a market, too. For nearly ‘0 years, there have been "Chrismukkah" cards, which mix Christmas and Chanukah.
I have nothing against Hallmark, although I wonder if the environmental cost can possibly be worth it. (I have a fantasy about a fund-raising card from a Jewish conservation group that says: "Trees are dying to wish you Shana Tova.")
There was one year I sent out a few holiday cards. I don’t know what possessed me. I don’t think anyone mentioned getting a card from me, even though the novelty was surely noteworthy, and since then I rarely hear people complain that they did not receive a card.
If you feel you must send a holiday card, match it with a contribution to a food bank. There is something obscene about a society whose members can spend $7.5 billion for greeting cards while children and the elderly go to bed hungry. It’s like coming out of Starbucks with a $5 drink and begrudging the homeless a quarter.
Every year at the Passover seder, we say: "All who are hungry, let them come and eat. All who are in need, let them come and celebrate the Pesach." Every year, for every Jewish holiday that might call for a greeting card, do something Jewish: think food. Donate to a food bank, a soup kitchen, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger (www.mazon.org), or the local kosher Meals on Wheels.
There are three ways to donate to the local Kosher Meals on Wheels: You can donate directly to the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, which prepares the meals; to Jewish Family Service, which arranges for and distributes the meals; and to UJA of Northern New Jersey, which helps fund both efforts.
Marilyn Henry is the author of "Confronting the Perpetrators: A History of the Claims Conference" (Vallentine Mitchell). She lives in Teaneck.