[vc_row row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” angled_section=”no” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern” css_animation=””][vc_column][vc_column_text]screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-7-31-25-amBy Debbie Ann Anderson,  Executive Director, Homefirst Interfaith Housing & Family Services, Inc.

“Home for the Holidays” is a phrase that most of us are familiar with and can relate to.  Gathering with family and friends, sharing food and exchanging gifts is what this Holiday season is all about.  We must consider ourselves fortunate because that is not the reality for many of the homeless residents who live in our communities. 

According to New Jersey’s 2016 Point-In-Time Count 8,941 persons were experiencing homelessness in New Jersey. In Union County, there is an average homeless population of 513 people representing 5.7% of the state total.  Also, 28% of the homeless in Union County were families with at least on child under the age of 18 and one adult.  This represents an increase of 22.7% from 2015 or an increase from 75 to 92 families (17 additional families) who have become homeless.

Unfortunately, the problem is compounded by hunger and food insecurity, which go hand-in-hand with homelessness.  There are 61,950 people in the county that don’t know where their next meal is coming from. These numbers reflect those that have a place to live but due to their economic situation cannot afford adequate food.

Unfortunately, it is easy to get caught up in the holiday frenzy and forget the true spirit of the season.  The best place to start is by just being aware of the needs of those around us.  Providing help or care for others begins with noticing what those needs are.  As a community, we have the obligation and power to help those less fortunate. We can help provide two basic human needs, food and shelter.   It’s as easy as dropping off items at a local food pantry, volunteering or making a charitable contribution to organizations that serve these families and individuals.  

The benefit of providing charity work to an organization is that you are offering your time and services towards the greater good of your community.  By having a direct impact on the community where you live, you help build a stronger community.  The charity organizations that are in our communities rely on the general public to make sure that their doors do not close.  Support seems to be getting thinner and thinner due to the financial strain that the world has been experiencing. 

The holiday season is a good time to start thinking about helping other people and sharing our good fortune with our neighbors in need.  By providing food and shelter they too can experience the joys of the season.  Giving warmth, love and hope, that’s what this holiday should be all about. 

For more information on how you can help visit https://www.homefirstinc.org/get-involved/