Making holidays brighter, safer and less stressful

Posted: Sunday, December 12, 2004

It's unfortunate that the season of giving sometimes is the only time some of us remember those who are less fortunate.

The statistics, however, remind us that there are lots of people in need all around us. According to a recent report from the Agriculture Department, about 12.6 million American families didn't have enough food or worried about someone in the family going hungry last year. That's about 11.2 percent of all U.S. households.

Break the numbers down more and they say more than 36 million people, including 13 million children, experienced hunger or worried about it last year, The Associated Press reported.

The tangible results of hunger include children who have trouble at school, more illness among children and adults, less ability to purchase a balanced and nutritious diet and higher levels of anxiety for parents trying to make ends meet, Lynn Parker, the director of child nutrition of Bread for the World, a hunger relief organization, told the AP. Those things, in turn, put a dent in the overall health and productivity of a community.

Hunger in the world's wealthiest nation isn't acceptable, but we don't have to wait for government to do more. Each of us can play a role in helping eliminate hunger in our nation and our community by sharing what we have with others.

There are several helping organizations on the Kenai Peninsula that work to meet the needs of the hungry — including the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, The Salvation Army and Love INC.

During this season of giving, we would encourage everyone to share what they can to help ease the plight of those who have less.

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a

thousand times: Don't drink and drive.

The admonition is worth repeating during the holidays, when alcohol tends to be a part of our celebrations.

Our hope is that everyone who imbibes during the festivities that go from now through the New Year will resolve not to drink and drive. Not this year. Not next year. Not ever again.

It's just not worth the risk.

Unfortunately, many people live under the delusion that it's OK for them to drink and drive. They wrongly believe that their judgment isn't impaired when they drink — at least not enough to cause an accident or call attention to themselves. Or, they believe they live under some magic star that won't allow them to get into trouble. Some reason they know the roads too well to get into trouble; after all, home is just a short drive away.

Drunk drivers not only put themselves in danger, they also put the lives of all those on the road with them at risk.

Drinking and driving also can put a big dent in one's bank account — even if one is fortunate enough to escape being in an accident. Legal fees, fines, higher insurance rates and missed work are just a few of the ways the bar tab increases to astronomical proportions when one is arrested for drunk driving.

If you drink this holiday season, then give yourself and the rest of the community one of the following gifts: a nondrinking designated driver, cab fare home or a hotel room or other safe place to stay that will keep you off the road.

If you are hosting a party where alcohol will be served, be prepared to arrange for a ride home for your guests or invite them to spend the night. Also, plan activities so that the focus isn't just on drinking.

There's no reason for anyone to ruin everyone's holiday celebration by drinking and driving. An arrest — or worse — caused by driving while drunk is no way to start the new year.

A recent credit card survey by Myvesta,

a nonprofit consumer education organization, shows the average amount of credit card debt carried by individuals has risen 14.5 percent over the past year —from $2,294 in 2003 to $2,627 in 2004.

Americans have grown increasingly dependent on using plastic to make everyday purchases, including their fast food meals and groceries, notes Myvesta. Those credit cards get even more of a workout during the holiday season.

Nobody is asking you to turn into Scrooge for the holidays, but a little planning can help relieve take the pressure off in January and February when the bills start coming due. Some ideas:

Make your list and check it twice. Do you really need to give all those gifts?

Don't give pricey gifts because you feel guilty or pressured. Do you even remember what gifts you received or gave over the last few years?

Teach kids the value of giving by letting them donate good used toys and clothing to charity.

Create different holiday traditions that focus on time spent together, instead of time shopping.

Remember, most Americans are relying on the equity in their home to pay off their credit card debt. While that can provide temporary relief, equity will dry up and the debts will need to be paid. The advice from Myvesta is worth heeding: "If you find yourself charging everyday purchases and relying on debt to make ends meet, act quickly before the situation gets out of control."

Enjoy the holidays; don't get buried by them.

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