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By Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle

Christmas decorations have been in stores for months now. It is a wonderfully anticipated season for many people. Generosity reaches a peak as hearts are warmed to the hope and joy of the season.

Among the many promotions are toy drives. These are an easy sell. Who doesn’t love the idea of putting a smile on a child’s face Christmas morning? With a simple gift dropped in a box or under tree, we know one less child will feel forgotten. We know that the magic of Christmas can be experienced, if only for one day. The thought brings us joy.

And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,… He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:46-47, 51-53)

The words of Mary in the Magnificat are part of the story we tell in Advent. It is a reminder that God’s love is meant to be transformative. God wants the lowly lifted up and the hungry filled with good things.

We are doing God’s work when we care for children at Christmas. Still, the challenge of Mary’s words goes beyond toys donated as these words invite us to reflect on the reason why a child might need a toy from a stranger at Christmas. These words challenge us to consider how the proud and powerful have created a context in which families are precarious.

There are children who need support 365 days of the year because the adults who care for them do not have sufficient means to do so. They may work two and three jobs to pay the bills making it hard for them to be available to their children. Yet, because no single job pays a living wage, a wage sufficient to pay for the bare necessities of life, they may still live paycheck to paycheck, leaving them vulnerable and sometimes having to ask for help from others.

There is a lot of misinformation that perpetuates this cycle. We are told it is primarily teenagers who work for minimum wage. Consider paying attention next time you go to a big box store, get fast food, go to a restaurant, or any of the other businesses who often pay minimum wage. Who is working? How many may have children who will benefit from that toy donation at Christmas?

We are also told that raising minimum wage will mean that prices will go up. What is often not mentioned is the fact that many of the businesses that account for the majority minimum wage workers have made record profits in recent years, have CEOs who earn hundreds if not thousands more than the workers, and have paid significant dividends to stockholders. In other words, padding the bank accounts of people who have more than sufficient resources is more important that ensuring that child who will receive a toy from the donation box will have what they need the rest of the year.

What happens when we reflect on that part of the Magnificat that reminds us the proud are scattered, the powerful brought down, and the rich sent away empty? To what extent are we being challenged to ask the difficult questions about why a child needs charity at Christmas? To what extent are we being invited to consider challenging the unjust structures of society that perpetuate the vulnerability of children 365 days of the year? How can we respond?

Consider seeking out those businesses who pay a living wage (note: these can be found by searching living wage online and are often small businesses). Support those who prioritize the wellbeing of all their employees and challenge those companies who put profits before people. Send letters. Let them know you realize they are contributing to the challenges faced by families who benefit from toy donations at Christmas. Tell them you want them to do better.

We can do better. We can do more than drop a toy to put smile on a child’s face at Christmas. We can act in ways that help that child know they matter 365 days of the year. May we all live Christmas, live the Magnificat this season and every day.

Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle is a co-chair of SEJH and a co-chair of Justice League of Huron.