- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2001

Mary Lou Moss got through Oct. 28, which would have been her husband's 35th birthday. She still is not sure how she will get through the next week, which would have marked her 10th wedding anniversary and will, of course, include Christmas.
Mrs. Moss' husband, Brian, a Navy electronics technician, died in the September 11 terrorist attack at the Pentagon, where he worked. At 33, the D.C. resident now is a single mother to their daughter and son, ages 7 and 5.
"I wear his work ID badge behind mine every day," says Mrs. Moss, who is moved to tears when she talks about her husband. "His uniform still hangs in our closet."
Mrs. Moss took her daughter and son to a recent Toys for Tots luncheon for the children of victims of the Pentagon attack. But what she wants most for her children this season is not made by Disney or Crayola.
"What I want is for my kids to remember their dad," she says. "We talk about him every day."
From young widows such as Mrs. Moss to patriotic Christmas tree ornaments to an increase in people looking to volunteer their time, this holiday season has taken on many new meanings in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
At Stephanie Turner's home, it means every one of the 12 families she invited will attend her annual gingerbread house party. Her neighbors are sticking close to home in this era of uncertain travel.
For Brita Kemp, a federal worker who lives in Northwest, it means spending Saturdays at SHARE, the food co-op sponsored by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. She brings along her grandchildren, ages 11 and 13, whom she is helping to raise.
"I tell them, 'You may not have a lot, but if you help other people, it seems like you have so much more,'" Ms. Kemp says.
In the Washington area, there have been thousands of people indirectly affected by the events of the past few months. The slowdown in the hospitality industry due to the shutdown of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport for several weeks and layoffs as a result of a falloff in tourist travel has meant many families who were relying on minimum wage are now jobless.
Scott Skenkelberg, director of development for Bread for the City, a food program that serves nearly 8,000 meals a month, says the number of people seeking assistance rose 20 percent in September and October. Nearly three-quarters of those requests came from first-time participants. Donations were also down significantly during that time, Mr. Skenkelberg says.
He is particularly concerned as half the organization's fund raising occurs during the holidays. At the same time, Bread for the City will be giving out 5,000 holiday meals.
At SHARE, where families pay $15 and volunteer time in return for greatly-reduced-price groceries, requests for food are also up, Executive Director Scott Lewis says. However, the food bank has seen a huge increase in people inquiring about volunteering.
"A lot of families want to come in groups," Mr. Lewis says. "People are feeling the need to get together."
Groups such as United Way and the American Red Cross have raised more than $1 billion for victims' relief. But with only so many charity dollars to go around, that leaves many others with an uncertain holiday picture, says Catholic Charities President Ed Orzechowski.
"We have seen an average of a 40 percent increase over the last six weeks in people asking for services who are indirectly affected by September 11," he says. "And we are experiencing contributions about 15 percent lower than they were at this time last year. Our concern is we may have to look at possibly curtailing some programs if things do not turn around in the next two months."

Still spending, but differently
For those not economically affected by September 11, there still will be gifts this holiday season. They may be different from the ones chosen in years past, though.
"People have gone through an identity crisis," says Robbie Blinkoff, a Baltimore cultural anthropologist who studies consumer behavior. "Some have re-evaluated their values. They are honoring community and security. They are searching for ways to make personal and work life more meaningful, so purchases are being made through that value filter."
Big sellers this season are things that bring the family together, Mr. Blinkoff says. That could mean items such as a kitchen table or a DVD player, he says.
Mr. Blinkoff also says gifts that help create a lasting relationship are popular. That could mean something as subtle as sending cookies to neighbors you don't know that well or finally buying an engagement ring for a longtime girlfriend.
"One woman took a tea set to a retirement home," he says. "She said to the residents she would come back and have tea with them once a month."
Patriotic items are also everywhere this year from "God Bless America" crystal ornaments to red, white and blue dreidels. Rather than being regarded as kitsch years from now, they are likely to endure in the ornament box as reminders of what America was going through in late 2001, Mr. Blinkoff says.
Sending or not sending holiday cards this season may also remind people of the events of 2001. After the anthrax scare, many Americans called or sent e-mails to loved ones rather than clogging mail routes with unnecessary and potentially dangerous envelopes.
American Greetings, the Ohio-based greeting card company, sensed that hesitation and hired a research company to poll consumers. In a telephone survey of 1,037 women older than age 25, 90 percent of respondents said they will send the same amount of holiday cards this year. Eighty-six percent said they were not concerned by handling or opening the mail.
"Even though there has been some speculation to the contrary, we have strong indications people are planning to send out their holiday cards as usual," says Jeff Petit, American Greetings' vice president of communications. "Most people are not worried because they receive greeting cards from people they know."
World War II brought about an increase in greeting card sales as people sought ways to encourage and support one another, Mr. Petit says. American Greetings has produced a series of cards that are reproductions of some of those 1940s designs, as well as other patriotic, inspirational and religious cards.
Ten percent of the proceeds from the patriotic cards will go to the American Red Cross, which is another trend this season. Buying something that will benefit a charity helps the economy and the relief efforts simultaneously, Mr. Blinkoff says.
"Consumers now more than ever believe they make a difference," he says.

Keeping perspective
For many families, the holidays are not about patriotism or boosting the gross domestic product. The season has always been about family, God and giving.
Ms. Kemp's grandchildren will get a few educational toys, she says.
The three Turner children have always had the tradition of one outfit, one book and one toy under their Christmas tree. It is a tradition in the Turner home to clean house for the holidays, with outgrown toys and coats going to various clothing and toy drives. One of the gingerbread houses from their party will go to a local hospital.
"It is so easy to get caught up in 'this is cute,'" Mrs. Turner says. "God gave us Jesus. That was a good gift. I'm from a lifestyle of God has blessed us, so we'll pass it on."
For Sara Williams, Christmas will still be about her children Sophie, 4, Meredith, 1, and the new baby she is expecting this spring. But they will greatly miss Lt. Cmdr. Dave Williams, Sara's husband, who was killed at the Pentagon on September 11.
"We have a really great church, and my parents are in Arlington," says Mrs. Williams, who lives in Springfield. "We will just keep gaining strength. I will be with my parents this season, and we'll focus on the kids. We'll focus on the positive."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide