We have a small internal problem here at the newspaper but we're looking to the public for a solution. The debate centers on the practical and the philosophical. It involves the upcoming Community Christmas Campaign. Granted, it's not even October yet but planning for this annual community fundraiser starts well before Christmas day obviously. This week alone we had two early inquiries concerning the 2003 Christmas campaign.
So what's the problem? Well for starters, it's not financial. This annual campaign in Sikeston has generated generous donations through the years. Those funds in the beginning were used exclusively to purchase food and toys for Christmas. But in recent years, the donations of food items have allowed us to use some of the donated funds to assist the needy throughout the year with rent, utility assistance and medical needs.
If memory serves me correctly, this would mark the 24th year this newspaper and community have combined to provide food baskets and toys for the needy. It's impossible to say how many lives we've touched during those two-plus decades. But regardless of the outcome, the program has been a helping hand to families in need during the holiday season.
So here's the problem. In some ways - and this is the publisher's opinion - this program has become part of Sikeston's problem and not part of the solution. Our records and primarily the institutional memory of those who have worked in the campaign for years is clear on one point - year after year, the same families apply and receive assistance through this campaign. In many instances, the Christmas campaign is now providing assistance to second generation family members who benefited from the program virtually from birth in some instances.
So have we become the helping hand as our original intention or have we become yet another of society's crutches providing a handout for some who are capable of providing for themselves? It's not an easy question to ask and it's an even more troubling question to answer.
I've said from the very beginning - and I know, I was there - that the annual holiday campaign was a temporary solution to a growing problem at a critical time of the year. We want no child to suffer through a Christmas without a present. And too, families often find themselves in need during the holidays and the Christmas campaign was a brief though temporary helping hand during those times.
But increasingly through the years we've learned that hundreds of families will always remain in need regardless of the circumstances. And thus, like too many other programs, they have come to rely annually on this campaign. I know in my heart that if you continually provide something for free, there will be those who find no incentive to improve their lot in life and take on responsibilities for themselves. Like a generational welfare program, the Christmas campaign has become an expected handout that helps some families through the holidays. Well that was not the purpose in the beginning nor is it today.
We've wrestled with countless solutions from abandoning the program entirely to prohibiting past recipients from participating. In short, there is no easy answer.
So help us if you will. Tell us what you think. My point is a simple one that I'll repeat once again. If this campaign has through the years become a part of hampering the motivation of people to provide for themselves, then believe me, the program will end here and now. And I personally fear in some ways that we're becoming part of the problem with a dependent society instead of being a temporary solution at a critical time.