I spent the better part of one morning last week telling dozens of low-income people of color that they had to CHOOSE ONE: cranberry sauce, stuffing in a box, or corn muffin mix.
Most were grateful. Some asked why they couldn’t have two boxes of stuffing. One woman looked at me incredulously and said pointedly, “Well, you can’t have stuffing and turkey without cranberry sauce!”
I repeated that she could only pick one item, but I secretly agreed with her. In my house, Thanksgiving is the time of year we insert extra leaves into the dining room table, break out the stretchy pants, and prepare ourselves for a month’s worth of meats and soups and vegetables and desserts. We would never limit ourselves to “choose one” when we’re browsing the grocery store aisle for Thanksgiving dinner.
The many people I served last week, with portable shopping carts in tow and dated clothes from Good Will on their backs, had lined up on a street corner in Columbia Heights, some as early as seven o’clock, to receive food donations from Martha’s Market, a nonprofit food distribution site for struggling individuals and families.
The mothers and fathers who shuffled through the line just wanted their families to have a nice Thanksgiving. On one hand, I felt like I was helping them achieve that. But on the other hand, as I distributed singular boxes of corn muffin mix and mismatched cans of cranberry sauce, I felt guilty that my family doesn’t have to choose between cranberry sauce and stuffing. And then I felt guilty for even thinking that, because neither cranberry sauce nor stuffing is necessary for survival, and the fact that I treated them as holiday necessities (and that I was willing to feel bad for someone who didn’t have them) showed my fundamental lack of understanding of what it really means to have not.
On Thanksgiving, my family and millions of families across the country launch into speeches about what they’re thankful for. Most of us are quite thankful for what we have: family, food, friends, an education, a job, a home. Of course, we don’t proclaim our gratefulness for things we take for granted, such as the fact that we have food every day, not just the food we have on Thanksgiving, and that we have lived in a home our entire lives, not just when we come home for the holidays.
If I’ve learned anything while interning at CCC, it’s that we shouldn’t take anything for granted. And I’m trying not to. This Thanksgiving, I will be thankful for what I do not have to deal with: hunger, economic insecurity, debt, poor health, unemployment benefits, and everything else I have been lucky enough to avoid in my life (knock on wood, superstition runs in the family). Because in the grand scheme of things, it’s truly a luxury to be able to feel grateful for something.