Service of Terrible Decisions: Pay Bills or Buy Gifts for the Children?

December 17th, 2020

Categories: Charity, Choice, Christmas, Pandemic


I saw a Facebook posting in which a single mother grieved that she was overwhelmed by debt with no end in sight. She was jobless. She worried that she didn’t know how she’d manage to buy Christmas gifts for her children.

One comment caught my eye. The writer reprimanded the mother for thinking about gifts when she owed money. She should pay her bills and forget presents, she scolded.

I empathize with the mother. Imagine if you’re faced with eviction, starvation, and possibly illness without medical care for you and your family. The looks of disappointed children who may understand what’s going on at home but nevertheless hope for a surprise would add to an already astronomical heartache. [I am sorry I rushed by the post at the time and didn’t track down the mother.]


Churches, organizations and clubs around the country traditionally had giving trees this time of year, all cancelled now, while at the same time the need for basics by millions has exploded. There was nothing frivolous about the wishes I took from such trees. Written on paper ornaments or tags were requests for a warm coat for an infant; a housecoat for a senior. Real estate companies at some of the larger buildings in NYC showed off the bicycles, games and dolls slated for children associated with a charity.

Not this Christmas.

The economy isn’t going to snap back even after 70 percent of us are vaccinated. Millions will continue to suffer.


As I pass residential and commercial lobbies in Manhattan I see gargantuan Christmas trees decorated to death. They cheer for the moment tenants and guests dash by. What if co-op and condo boards and tenants in rentals voted to skip the trees and donate the budgeted money for food, warm clothing or gifts for little ones? There might be a collection in each building to buy a few poinsettia plants for a lobby instead.

But such efforts are miniscule potatoes.

All around the country small businesses have crumbled and with them the hopes and savings of the owners. Thousands have been let go by giant corporations. I fear another stimulus check–$3,600 for a couple with two children–while better than nothing won’t make much of a dent on past due rent, electric, phone and credit card bills.

I’ve written before about the thrill of sending a surprise to a child through the Letters to Santa program. This year the link is The site reported that 23,244 letters have been adopted so far! In addition, when I looked early this morning I read: “There are none left now, but check back later. We add more every day.” Aren’t Americans wonderful?

There are 630 $billionaires in the US according to It would help if each tossed in one of those billions to pay the rent and essential bills of the unemployed. A compensation lawyer such as Kenneth Feinberg who deftly handled the 9/11 and BP cases, among many, could organize and direct the distribution.

What might non-billionaires do?  What choice should a mother in such a predicament make?



6 Responses to “Service of Terrible Decisions: Pay Bills or Buy Gifts for the Children?”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    This is just a horrible virus that’s hitting countries so hard, that were not prepared. Australia and New Zealand nipped it in the bud, thank God, early. Our orange faced wonder in the White House, actually disbanded large sections of the infectious disease department just before all this hit… One never knows when this will happen! Have to be prepared. Always.

    Unfortunately it’s making people have to make horrible choices…

    So sorry for people that have to choose between essentials and gifts! I guess everyone is just doing the Best they can for now… And hoping the vaccine gets to everyone on earth.

    God bless us all.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    As I read your comment I realized that the “orange faced wonder” infected the country with more than the deadly virus, but with so many others beginning with welcoming anger and prejudice and divisiveness between citizens and out of selfish pride injecting doubt in our system of election. The country is sick in many ways beyond Covid-19 under his influence.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Criticizing anyone when they’re down and out is never right, regardless of circumstances. Unfortunately, the bills must come first, especially if payments mean the difference of living under a roof or on the street — especially when there are children.

    Children won’t die if they don’t get presents, but might do just that if they get sick in the cold with no shelter.

    As for the Lady Scrooge in the blog, she might have thought of opening her pocketbook rather than her mouth, and lightened someone’s load rather than make it heavier.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I should have done what you suggested–open my pocketbook–and my excuse is that I scan many postings at a clip and move along. This one haunted me, hence the post.

    Hopefully the mother knows about the post office Santa initiative and has her children write to Santa. So far it looks as though all wishes have been adopted and fingers crossed every child receives a surprise on time!

  5. Anonymous Said:

    EVERYONE has a family or good friend somewhere….

  6. Anonymous Said:

    A friend who asked to remain anonymous wrote the following in a Christmas letter:

    I read your blog for today. It really strikes a chord with me–both the dire straits of so many people, and the generosity of so many others {except certain members of the government, whom are best not mentioned}. The non-profit agency I work for for years and years at Christmastime has turned to a wonderful organization in 2 nearby towns that puts together Christmas presents for hundreds of needy kids, called “Gifts for Kids.” This year the complicated logistics have made it unworkable/unsafe for the women to shop for the children and have employees of the various non-profits come to a central place to collect the bags upon bags of toys and clothes. Instead they produced an incredible number of gift cards. Our agency was given the equivalent of $125 or more in gift cards for each child we put on our wish list, plus for the few teen mothers we serve. The cards are for Target/Walmart/Kohl’s/Visa/and a few others. There are extra cards for families that are especially needy. In our town a Santa collection is held each year. The collection location is the Episcopal church which my husband attends. We participated, and my husband reports that the parish hall is loaded with toys and children’s clothing. The need is great and so are the people who care.

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