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Ignore Your New Flat Screen. Put Down Your Wii. Use The Week After Christmas To Volunteer

I feel as if we're sitting back again, waiting for Obama to be inaugurated so he can fix it all. Did "yes we can" really evaporate that quickly?
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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and if you've got cash, you're teed up for a good one. In New York, elite stores that don't usually mark anything down until January slashed prices 70% right after Thanksgiving. Every online merchant I visit is offering free shipping. And my phone rings regularly with customer service reps on the line, all of them desperate to hear me say I'm happy.

I'm not. Ditto my wife. Ditto our friends.

That we have enough and others don't -- that many others don't -- casts a pall on the season. But we're parents of a young daughter who is clueless about derivatives and mortgages and lost jobs. So we front. We front beautifully; our daughter is counting the days.

My wife and I are counting different days.

We figure that Christmas Day will see men and women of good will stacked up at churches and shelters, feeding the disadvantaged and making sure that every kid gets a present.

It's December 26th we dread.

The week between Christmas and New Year's will see people who can afford it -- the people who run things -- on beaches and ski lifts. Staycationers will be hooking up their new bargain flat screens. Kids will burn the day playing Wii; college students will party the night away with friends.

If you're a winner, it's time off.

But if you're on the hurting end of this economy, where do you go for help -- or even for distraction from your troubles?

It wasn't so long ago that Barack Obama inspired a lot of comfortable but concerned people to leave their homes and ring doorbells in neighborhoods they'd never ordinarily dream of visiting. And America met America. It was an exciting time -- I think many people were inspired, not just by Obama, but by the possibility of bridging gaps of race and class.

Now I feel as if we're sitting back again, waiting for Obama to be inaugurated so he can fix it all.

Did "yes we can" really evaporate that quickly?

Has economic distress really driven us back behind locked doors?

I don't think so.

I suspect we're all waiting for someone to give us a signal.

Well, consider this: The week after Christmas doesn't have to be a dead week for the haves and a deader one for the have-nots.

We could get a jump on the Obama years. We could step up, help the least of these, help ourselves. We could make a statement that's so simple nobody can miss it: People matter.

In the media, all I hear is the chilly, cruel language of abstraction: property, jobs, liquidity, contracts. Meanwhile, small businesses and homeowners beg for crumbs from the rich man's table. And the families of millions of workers are just collateral damage in a war against unions. It's shameful, this pageant of politicians and pundits.

So it would be wonderful if a counter-message got sent during a week of service. And if it got big and loud, because the idea that people matter is more than a charity slogan, it's something fundamental. But for that to happen, this idea needs helpers.

It would be terrific if, say, Craig Newmark of Craigslist could point me to clearinghouses for local projects -- and my wish came true. Craig has presented really useful suggestions, right here on Huffington Post. .

I read a recent interview with Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, in which he talks about corporate responsibility and communities. And I thought: It would be fantastic if the 11,000 Starbucks stores across America could be gathering places for impromptu crews of caffeinated volunteers. Up for it, Howard?

And then there's the me-and-thee piece: What would we do?

The need is local; from here, I can't possibly know. Beyond Craig Newmark's links, I have every confidence that there are churches, agencies, online lists and neighborhood loudmouths to point you to people and projects that could use some help.

My thing is kids. School will be out, and, among other things, it means that lunch may not be happening. So I'll be looking to help out at a New York City program that offers sports or an outing --- and a meal.

Care about seniors? Homes for the elderly will surely be short-staffed during that holiday week. You could read. Write a letter. Or just listen.

Concerned about the suddenly jobless? If you cleaned out your closets, culled your kids' old toys, edited your bookshelves.....

The other day, our daughter and I dropped a carload of her outgrown books at a charity that serves homeless and poor kids. It felt good to do it. But not good enough. A little more service, though, and I might just feel okay about these holidays.

If you too are suffering from guilt, sadness or thwarted idealism, this remedy might work for you too.

[cross-posted from]