By the time the December holidays come, many of us have worked ourselves up into a veritable frenzy of giving. We’ve bought presents for our friends and family. We walk along streets where Salvation Army bells are ringing and their kettles are jingling with cash for the less fortunate so they can put food on the table for the holidays. Sometimes we even adopt a family for the holidays, giving many without presents, especially kids, the resources to have a proper celebration. It’s a great season for charity, a great season for feeling good about the help we give!

But as the holidays fade behind us one day at a time, and the Salvation Army kettles disappear from the sidewalks, many families still struggle to keep the lights on, one day at a time. And some families wonder how they could have asked for help with bills, rather than gifts. It’s very hard to say “Thanks for your kindness, but this isn’t what I really need,” and yet many are thinking it. Recently, we heard from a family we worked with several years back, a family of five, with three elementary-school age kids. The father had been dealing with lymphoma for more than seven years, with all of the consequences for family income that that involved; they had been struggling to meet all their daily expenses. At Christmas, their friends and church members were piling their Christmas tree high with gifts for their children. “[This is] all wonderful,” they thought, “but what we need is food on the table and help with the mortgage.”

Giving gifts is easy: we’re all used to the rituals of how to give and receive a present to be opened or unwrapped. It’s a lot harder to figure out how to go to a friend and offer them help them with their expenses, but that’s often what is the most needed a little bit of help or a little bit of emotional support with these challenges, day by day.