Goose, gravy, a few meager potatoes and a little applesauce. Such is the feast upon which Bob Cratchit's family dines in Charles Dicken's classic "A Christmas Carol" as Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present watch. A small, hard plum pudding extravagantly doused in "half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy"—a half a cup at most costing a few pennies—is the crowning glory.
Potatoes were everyday fillers in the 1800s. Dried apples reconstituted and warmed, something to round out a meal when possible. Scrooge's impoverished clerk would have saved for months for that goose, although it too was common, plentiful fare.
These foods were the spaghetti, hotdogs and macaroni-and-cheese box dinner of today's low-income families. Our Christmas Present, if you will.
One in 7 Americans relies on food pantries and meal programs, according to Feed America. Locally, western Wisconsin residents have it slightly better, where 1 in every 9 of our neighbors is living as food insecure and in southeastern Minnesota, the number is 1 in 10.
And as in Dickens' time, children and the ill suffer the most. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 1 out of every 5 children in the 14-county area is food insecure. An estimated 40-plus percent of client households served by Feeding America food banks have had to choose between medical care and food.
Scrooge took special interest in the desperately ill Tiny Tim, asking if he will live. The Ghost of Christmas Present delivers the hard news: No, unless someone changes the future. In his final minutes, the ghost revealed two emaciated children clinging to his robes. The boy's name is Ignorance and the girl's is Want.
You can be the Spirit of Christmas Present. You can help put an everyday feast on a local table by donating to a local food shelf. Here's your menu:
For the protein, give canned chicken or tuna, peanut butter or canned beans instead of a goose. Whole-grain cereals, pasta, brown rice and crackers may be easier to drop off than a big bag of potatoes. Canned fruits (yes, applesauce) and vegetables are good choices. A cash donation would be the crowning touch.
Then like Bob, we can propose: "A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!" Which all local families can re-echo and Tiny Tim, the last of all, "God bless us every one!"