Abundance and want: A thought for St. Stephen’s Day

The beef has been roasted, the cookies devoured, the wine and the eggnog drunk. Bits of ribbon still litter the floor. But there are leftovers, glorious leftovers, and it’s nearly lunchtime on the east coast. Huzzah, indeed.

In between shopping for bigger pants, though, let’s give a thought to those who had too little, or nothing at all, to eat yesterday, and today, and the day after. Better yet, let’s actually do something. Giving money isn’t all that needs to be done, but it is one thing, and thanks to the internet we can do that one thing without even getting off our holiday-sized behinds. (As a dozen emails a day remind me, not nearly all of them charitably.)


Every day in the developing world, 18,000 children under the age of five die of starvation and hunger-related disease.1 Eighteen thousand. Their deaths don’t make the news, but they are as worthy and as loved as those who do. Don’t let distance, difference, and the unending constance of the suffering lull you into thinking they aren’t real, into letting human souls become data points for public policy discussions. If their deaths aren’t shocking, they should be, every single day.

Here in North Carolina, death from actual starvation is unheard of, but one can be malnourished even while obese, and far too many don’t know where their next meal will come from. One in five children here lacked regular access to nutritious food before the recession of 2008. 2 Over half the state’s public school students are enrolled in the free or reduced-price lunch program. In twenty counties, more than two-thirds are.3 Government programs help, but not nearly enough. Our failure to come up with anything resembling a rational policy on food and agriculture isn’t helping, nor is the imminent end of extended unemployment benefits. And I’m certain the situation isn’t all that much better where you live.

St. Wenceslas I, Duke of Bavaria

“Good King” Wenceslas, there for the imitating. Helmet and sword not included, but you may yourselves find blessing.

This is, after all, “a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.”4 And today is the Feast of Stephen, a day forgotten by even the most observant Christians5 but for its being the occasion of Good King Wenceslas’ saintly mission to the poor — which, however fictional, is worth commemorating. So rejoice and enjoy your leftovers; be deeply thankful for them, and then please, if you haven’t already, give something to help those in need. Whatever any one of us can do will be but one drop in an ocean of suffering, but it is, at least, a drop.

And then, tomorrow, remember that Want is still there, and be thankful again.

There are plenty of organizations working to help. If you don’t know where to start in your own community, Feeding America will help you find a local food bank. See the “choose your state” menu in the right-hand column of their home page.

If you want to do something globally, I have always appreciated that the Heifer Project works to build stable food systems by empowering people to feed themselves, rather than only feeding them one day at a time.

  1. According to the United Nations World Food Programme, 10.9 million children under five die every day in the developing world, 60 percent from hunger and related disease.
  2. See
    Child Food Insecurity in the United States: 2005-2007
    , a report by Feeding America (PDF format).
  3. Numbers from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  4. Dickens, of course, in A Christmas Carol.
  5. Commemorating the death of the first Christian martyr, by stoning.