While I’ve never been an advocate of the holidays – mainly due to religious reasons, and because of their pagan, and sometimes commercial origin – I do admire the compassion and humanity they seem to inspire.

Every year around this time, people seem happier and jollier, sharing and giving what they can to those less fortunate than themselves. And with the economic plight of our society being as critical as it is, people still find it within their hearts to dig down deep and do something for their fellow man.

All across the country from the North to the South, it’s not uncommon for churches, civic organizations and community leaders to initiate and organize humanitarian efforts that will allow even the poorest to have a “happy holiday” season.

But what’s truly heart wrenching is when a young person makes that same effort, without parental prodding, by raising funds and donating their time and energy for the benefit of others.

For example, the college freshman from Vaiden, Mississippi, who gave away hundreds of canned goods to needy families. What began as a class project for Jessica Gayden, soon evolved into a mission of mercy that spread throughout her entire rural community.

With the help of a local educator and school board member, Rubye Miller, Gayden has helped dozens of poverty stricken families during the holiday season with donations of canned goods and other non-perishable items contributed by numerous local sources.

Other youngsters from the local 4-H clubs have done their share by making fruit and gift baskets for elderly nursing home residents, delivering these in person to the waiting and eager arms of a lonely senior citizen. From a monetary standpoint, the baskets were meager contributions at best, but they were given with the purest of motives – those of love and true sincerity.

As expected, local churches like Jones Chapel in Carrollton, Miss., and DuPage A.M.E., in Lisle, Illinois, step up to the plate when it comes to displaying that genuine holiday spirit. Jones Chapel adopts needy families from within the community and donates monetary gifts to be used in any way the family sees fit. And DuPage A.M.E. also has a group of sympathetic benefactors who annually contribute groceries and toys to the less fortunate.

Despite those genuine efforts, one has to wonder, “Does it really take a ‘season’ or even a recession to make us remember that brotherly love and goodwill should be displayed without pretense – and often?”

Soup kitchens across the country work around the clock to feed the hungry and homeless – many of them, drawing their biggest crowds during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season.

Statistics from a 2007 MSNBC report showed that in 2005, there were at least 744,000 homeless people living in the United States. By 2009, some organizations, like the Homeless Foundation of America say that number is actually closer to one million individuals.

The report from MSNBC further stated that a little more than half of the nation’s homeless were living in shelters, and nearly a quarter of those were chronically homeless, according to the advocacy group, the National Alliance to End Homelessness. A majority of those homeless were single adults, the report continued, while about 41 percent were families, including children.

So what is it that makes us feel good about ourselves because we lend a hand just once or twice a year? Have we done all that we can do by feeding a family for a few days when The World Food Programme estimates that one billion people will go hungry this year? That same organization reports that 17,000 children die every day – that’s one child every five seconds – because they don’t get enough to eat.

No one person – or group of people – can banish all the world’s ills, but what if we all learn to treat one another kindly and promote goodwill all year round?

Parents often use the promise of a plus-sized man in a red suit to motivate their children that it’s better to give than to receive. But should we really set aside just one or two days a year to prove ourselves grateful and thankful, or to help our fellow man?

Patricia Jefferson doesn’t think so.

In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, Jefferson talked about everything she’s lost, and everything she’s gained. Over the course of time, she and her husband have cared for more than three dozen foster children, including a troubled 13-year-old with autism. The Jeffersons lost their home, their belongings, and – eventually – Patricia lost her vision to diabetes. But even then, she insists that she has much to share and be thankful for.

“You can’t feel sorry for yourself,” Patricia told the Tribune. “How can we sit back and be upset and frowning? You have to look at life and find something positive in it.”

Everyone can do that, if we remember that an act of goodwill goes a long way when it’s given at the right time.