SAN ANTONIO -- It was Christmas Eve last year when a man approached me as I filled my car's gas tank. He was unemployed and had no immediate prospects of getting a job, with most managers on vacation for the holidays.
He asked for money, not for himself, he insisted, but for his 9-year-old daughter to have enough to eat.
The cynic in me immediately wanted to harden against this man. I wondered whether he really had a daughter who needed to eat. So instead of money, I offered to buy the man and his daughter a meal at the fast-food place across the street. He accepted, though he protested that I was spending far more than the few dollars he'd asked for originally. He said that he could have bought a whole chicken and stretched it beyond one meal for the price of the fast food.
We talked. He told me his name was Earl. His little girl was Tanya. We shook hands.
When we got the food order, I also gave him a few treats I had in the car -- baked goods and a gift left over from a party for needy children. Earl thanked me profusely, so much so that I was embarrassed.
I mention my encounter with Earl because of a conversation I had the other day with the head of a local arts program for urban youth in San Antonio.
He complimented my newspaper's holiday series spotlighting nonprofit agencies, but commented that the newspaper makes such an effort only once a year.
That's not unlike most communities, where the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas has become, for better or worse, the "season of giving." It is a time when we celebrate our good fortune, the rationale goes, and many thus feel compelled to share it with others.
It's as if hearts -- and pockets -- have been conditioned to open only once a year. Who says it has to stop there?
The plight of the poor is a year-round crisis. Some social workers observe that the needs of such a population are so daunting, cynicism can overtake.
I'll admit I was nearing that point before I gave in to the thought of Earl's daughter going hungry on Christmas Eve. But the gift of thanks I received in return sparked my compassion anew.
I welcome another chance to get that warm, fuzzy feeling from helping others, even if it comes in the heat of July.
TC Veronica Flores is a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News.
Pub Date: 12/17/98