During the past month, this newspaper and this community have had a healthy and ongoing dialogue over the future of the Community Christmas Campaign. This all started because this column outlined the possibility of ending the 23 year-old program. The reasoning was simple - in some ways I have come to the conclusion that this campaign is no longer as effective as it was originally designed. In short, too many people are using the campaign as yet another way to avoid personal responsibility and have become dependent on someone else providing toys and food for their families for Christmas.
By any measure, this has never been the purpose of the Community Christmas Campaign. Our thoughts, which originated in 1979, were to provide temporary assistance for families who found themselves in need over the holiday season. But alas, our dreams and the realities of our community were different. We began finding year after year, the same families caught in the same spiral of dependency. That on the surface is not all bad and is, in some ways, understandable. But through the years, we too have become smarter and more aware of the circumstances surrounding the families who seek assistance. And in large numbers, the need is critical during the holiday season because of poor choices made that resulted in this dependency. As an example, we can tell you of countless families who apply for holiday assistance yet those very same family members are regular customers are local bingo games each week. Now that alone obviously is not an automatic reason to deny assistance to someone in need. But if the pattern continues year after year, it made us aware that this program perhaps had become part of the problem and not the solution. Thus the reluctance to continue.
To the great credit of the residents of Sikeston, we have received nearly a hundred letters and Speakouts expressing varying opinions on the future of the campaign. The majority favor reduction or elimination of the program. Without exception, there is a universal agreement that those families who squander their limited resources should be excluded. In fact, there is a growing anger over those within our community who habitually use their finances for purposes other than to provide food, shelter and clothing for themselves and instead look for others to take care of their basics.
Granted, there will always remain those families who have a legitimate need. And for those families, we have decided to launch this Christmas Campaign once again but with ample changes. The changes will not be viewed with a welcome response in some quarters. In short, we will use all of the resources available to assure that the recipients are not just in need but also are not part of the chronic cycle of dependency that is broken only by saying "no."
We urge the community to support the 2003 Community Christmas Campaign with their financial donations. And in return, we'll promise to reduce the number of recipients and assist only those in genuine need. If the need is of their own creation, we will not include them in this year's campaign. We are convinced we can accomplish this goal.
We thank those residents who have offered suggestions on ways to change this holiday program. And we offer assurance here and now that those families who are the first in line to accept any offer of free assistance may well be in for a rude awakening. Sometimes the best help you can offer to someone seeking assistance is to say "no." That advice has been voiced time and time again. We have listened to that advice and pledged to follow that goal.