Sparked by Words

Thanksgiving 2017

We live in the eucalyptus woods of Lake Forest in Orange County, California, solidly middle class and a place we could not afford at today’s prices. We locked in to this gracious neighborhood of family focus, great schools, varied public and private services, and healthy businesses more than 30 years ago. This past two months we cleaned the house, packed up anything worth donating, threw out barrels of useless stuff that we wondered why we’d saved. We fixed and painted, scrubbed and polished. Organized in its new beauty, showing off its books, photos, and knickknacks, the house glows. We’re ready for the holidays, for our out of town guests. This will be the first in about 15 years that both our sons and their families will be together for Thanksgiving along with extended family and friends. The bright and shining face of comfort, we’re ready to celebrate our bounty.

Nearly 200 homeless people, many of them family groups, live around the Plaza of the Flags in downtown Santa Ana, our county seat. The area bridges the Orange County Superior Court building and the public law library. Nearby is the main branch of the distinguished Santa Ana Public Library and Santa Ana City Hall. None of the campers really want to live here but they can’t afford the high county rent. The encampment is an embarrassment, a haven for filth and disease, used syringes and empty bottles and cans. For discarded and broken toys, torn sweatshirts and trash. For vermin. For excrement. It’s a dirty, scary place to walk past as I did last year on my way to serve jury duty. It’s a failure of individual responsibility and self control, of inability to delay gratification or accept consequences, of unwillingness to apply oneself to education and work ethic. It’s a total failure of parenting skills. And it’s  not the image of public pride we’d like to project but the face of policy failure we can’t seem to resolve.

Some but not all of the adults work for low paying wages at jobs with inconsistent schedules. And yes, some are drug addicts, alcoholics, lowlifes and criminals – but not the children. The children are innocent and active, yearning for play, hoping for education. Like our four grandchildren. Like yours. Orange County officials are trying to clean up the encampment but if they deal with this problem by forcing these people out with no place else to go, then they simply foist the problem onto some other community. Resolution is not barricading Civic Center. It’s building temporary safe houses and long term opportunity. It’s people remembering their childhood goals and deciding to change themselves.

My family is eating lots of healthy food over this week of Thanksgiving. Everything traditional you can think of (most homemade by our many family cooks and bakers,) also sushi, pizza, and a variety of ethnic foods (most from local restaurants.) We love it all and we pick at the leftovers whenever we want a snack. Every year as part of my temple’s outreach program we collect hundreds of cans and boxes of food items to donate, along with grocery gift certificates, to help 200 low income families. Thanksgiving is one of about a dozen times during the year that we mount a formal collection – school supplies in September, clothing, books, eyeglasses, personal hygiene items, toys. Throughout the year we donate food and more food, because a meal eaten today doesn’t feed a person tomorrow. We write checks to service organizations whose mission is to help those who are ill, hungry, without homes. These low income people don’t live a few counties over. They live here in Orange County. They’re my neighbors. And yours.

We aren’t rich. We do without vacations, expensive hair care, manicures, gardeners, maid service, updates on the house, sometimes even without needed repairs. Remodeling our house is a daydream. Tickets to live theater or sporting events are out of the question. Until two months ago I drove a nineteen-year-old car but when it became dangerous, we purchased a newer used one. I don’t have to get around on a bicycle or on public transportation, and if I walk, it’s to enhance my health, not because there’s no other way. We do without luxuries, things by their definition no one needs. Our personal situation was built of hard work and bonuses of good luck. We have everything necessary for a decent life. We are rich in family, friends, and opportunities.

On Thursday when we sit with our two sons and two daughters-in-law, with our four grandchildren, and our extended family around a table graced with candles and goblets, we will say thanks for this bounty. But I will remember those whose lives are less secure, whose meal was cooked over a camp stove or eaten from greasy paper sheets while they hunkered on a cement slab in Civic Center. The crime is not that I can’t fix the problem. It’s  a crime if I don’t recognize their humanity, if I call them “other,” “other” being a designation of less worth. Yesterday I donated food. Today I wrote a check. Tomorrow I will give clothing. Next month I will donate toys. What we have is not extravagant. What we have is immensely extravagant bounty. I am deeply grateful.

May you always celebrate in joy and health with your family and loved ones. One day may everyone.





Image of homeless girl courtesy of



Comments on: "Thanksgiving 2017" (36)

  1. Happy Thanksgiving to you and all your family. May you be blessed.


  2. You bring tears to my eyes because of the truth that you so eloquently wrote. My golden years are quite similar to yours and I feel blessed. Thanksgiving should be filled with two things: Thanks & Giving. Your life is the perfect example of words put into action. Thank-you!


  3. There are lots of people just like this. Happy Thanksgiving, Shari.


  4. In Greece we don’t celebrate thanksgiving as such, but this post really pulls some heartstrings. It is to me unacceptable that advanced countries like ours cannot find a way to deal with homelessness. And yet most of these countries shell out millions in foreign Aid and other things. I don’t claim to know the answer, but surely solutions could be found. Meanwhile, it is good to be thankful for what we have. Hoping you have a lovely family time!🌺💕🍾


    • I don’t think the answer is only about money though money in the right programs would help. The problems are complex and the human element is the biggest obstacle and the one not easily resolved. I don’t have the answers either but I suspect it will have to address the needs of children more than anything else. We must find a way to prevent repetition of bad cycles. Thank you for your wishes, Marina.


  5. Amen. You said it all . . . eloquently.

    Blessings and always love,


  6. Nothing helps our own gratitude as giving to those who aren’t as fortunate. This is a perfect time to highlight giving, though hopefully, like you, we continue it throughout the year. Lovely post.


    • Giving is a huge part of what we “little people” can do, and it does make me feel that I’ve contributed something. There is satisfaction in that. But I felt the most useful when I worked directly with children whose families were impoverished. I was an instructional assistant working with kids whose families were falling through the cracks. Teaching the kids gave them a path to a future of more potential success. It wasn’t a position that lasted long, however. Thank you for your thoughts. Carrie.


  7. I pray your time with your family is one you’ve waited so patiently for, Shari. You inspire me to continue to feed those less fortunate with my kids. It wouldn’t take a whole lot of change for us to be in another’s current reality. It’s important to give love and show compassion. Enjoy your holiday! ♡


  8. Thank you for this post, Sharon. It’s the same problem we see in our own community and that is duplicated everywhere these days. As you’ve pointed out, we need to start with the children and try to prevent the cycle of drug addiction and alcoholism which is at the root of so many homeless. We also hear about those hard-working breadwinners who suddenly become disabled, sick, injured, and lose their jobs and homes. It’s so tragic. While the rich get richer, the financial help for those who find themselves homeless becomes scarcer.
    Thank you for being one of those who care, and who do what they can to help. Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!


  9. Yes – just talking about it isn’t enough. But it’s a good start.


  10. Jenna Barwin said:

    A good reminder, Sharon, that we have much to be grateful for, and that we are obliged to help others. For many years, I’ve known people who were one paycheck away from homelessness and had no safety net. My heart bled for a co-worker who was diagnosed with a neurological illness, and lost his job when he could no longer perform, and then lost his apartment. He lived out of his car, and my co-workers and I tried to help him, but we had no way to find him when he made his last visit to us and didn’t return. And we can’t forget that mental illness, sometimes not treatable, is also responsible for homelessness. The stories are as varied as the individuals themselves. No one solution will fit everyone.


    • You’re right, Jenna, there is no one single solution, but there are many organizations and individuals trying to help. Sometimes I give to people on the street but it’s probably more effective in the long run to give to organizations that have programs in place. For most of us, that job, that income, is everything, and when it disappears for whatever reason, the rest of a life may crumble as well. I hope your friend found sanctuary somewhere.


  11. Sharon, this is a very poignant post reminding us all of how many there are in this world that live so totally without comfort and very little food.
    All winter I think of it in the morning as I start the heating system and make my breakfast.
    Most of us send in help to those known organisations who provide shelter and food.
    Still, they have no homes.
    Yes, we should have Thanksgiving every day.



  12. Shari, you bless people on a regular basis. The homeless situation is in so many California communities. Our church provides food for the homeless in our neighborhood. Our university reports a large amount of college students who are “homeless”, those who couch-crash and just get by as they navigate increasing student fees, or live in their cars because they can’t live with their parents. Something has to give for many and it is the comfort of their own apartment oftentimes. It’s a tough choice, to give up school or give up a place to live. I’m blessed I never had to make that choice, and as a lecturer, I’m on the lookout for students who start having trouble in classes. Thanks for writing about this on Thanksgiving and reminding us all that those who can give, should.


    • Terri, I didn’t know about the homelessness and tenuous living situation of college students, but with fees and all their expenses so high, I’m not surprised. We see all the late summer ads for decorating dorm rooms, but who even considers the students for whom a bed is a luxury? Churches and other religious organizations are the fail safe for many people, but you are the “eye” for your college students. They are fortunate to have you.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. What a beautiful post! I love Thanksgiving because it’s an opportunity to show gratitude and, while we are good people all year, we get busy and distracted and this is a holiday to remember what is important.


  14. I second your prayer – may one day everybody have plenty. A beautiful post from a beautiful lady. Happy for you that you had all your family home for Thanksgiving.


  15. A beautiful post, Sharon–sorry I was so tardy in reading. I don’t like the attempts to make it illegal to be poor. I resent the victim-blaming that goes on, although I also acknowledge that the homeless, as a group (not always individuals), can be difficult to work with. Of the five people I’ve taken in at various times, two have stolen from me–and one of them was an old friend from high school. Addiction spreads misery to everyone it touches.

    I drive a 20 yo Saturn, so I get you on the car thing. I’ve never been to Hawaii or a foreign country (unless you count taking the ferry to Vancouver). I’ve learned to be at peace with this. I have a nice, warm house, very average, although it’s in a forest, which is severely cool. It’s good to take some time to be thankful for what we have. I’ve come to the conclusion that thankfulness is the real secret of happiness. 🙂


    • Cathleen, you live by a noble credo, one we could all do well to emulate. I’m deeply impressed. Your final sentence sums it nicely and I’ll remember it when I start crabbing about silly things. Thanks for your friendship.


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