I took a recent trip down memory lane while thumbing through my mail.

Protruding out from the bills, credit card applications and advertisements, was the annual toy catalog, filling me with nostalgia and generating enough excitement from my children that the regular noise and fighting ceased for a noticeable duration.

My oldest two children grabbed pens and scoured the magazine for what they wanted for Christmas. Once completed, basically every item had been circled, meaning that Christmas will be a major disappointment if they believe that catalog represents reality. I did it. My brothers did it. And my guess is that the majority of you did it, too.

The Christmas catalog always occupied my attention when I was younger. I skipped past the clothes section (which has now been deleted altogether) and immersed myself in a toy wonderland only possible through imagination and on the pages of retail catalogs. It’s part of the beginning of the season, much like turning on the radio and hearing Christmas music for the first time each year.

Thankfully, my children are somewhat rooted in reality and don’t believe that all of those toys are a possibility. It’s more about having fun with a particular tradition, which is part of what will occur these next two months.

November and December offer plenty of opportunities for retailers to go from the red into the black, for people to have more hope and for memories to be made. It also can be a difficult time for people who are missing loved ones, focus only on receiving rather than gifting and those who don’t have a warm home or food to celebrate.

That’s why this time of year is a great opportunity to give back to the community in which you live. The Gateway area has its share of struggling citizens who could use a hand this holiday season.

Luckily for those who live here and can give, there are plenty of options to consider. The Great Food Drive is held every year, which benefits Camanche and Fulton, Illinois, food pantries, along with the annual Thanksgiving feast offered by the Victory Center.

That isn’t the only place to give, though. Other food pantries will see more action this time of year, along with the annual bell-ringing campaign by the Salvation Army. Toys are distributed through various agencies, along with food baskets to families.

Even if particular organizations aren’t related to the holiday season, it doesn’t mean we should ignore their mission. This time of year creates great awareness for all the non-profits currently operating within our area. There’s too many to name, but if you have an interest in a specific ideal, like the arts, equality, sports, religion, things to do, giving to the needy, etc., there’s a place in this area that could use you.

I’m involved in multiple non-profits and I hear from others who are involved. No one is turning away help, whether if it’s through volunteer time or through monetary assistance.

It’s easy to get sidetracked this time of year with all that’s happening during the holidays. Getting presents for the children, attending Christmas concerts, cooking that perfect Thanksgiving feast and hanging up those pesky Christmas lights can overwhelm us during a time that should be more about giving. My wife and I struggle with that mindset at times during this time of year, especially with all the stuff to do.

But it’s important to pass along to future generations the importance of giving back and being thankful. My family will have fun with our Christmas catalog and moving that ridiculous elf around the home every...single....day for a month. But like many others in this area, we’ll carve out time to help those who need it this holiday season. And we’re thankful to live in a community that offers so many opportunities at giving back this holiday season.

Scott Levine is the Associate Editor of the Clinton Herald. He can be reached at scottlevine@clintonherald.

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