With Hanukah around the corner and Christmas just a few weeks away, ’tis the season for giving out of our abundance to those less fortunate than us. And when you give to a private charity, you’re supporting something that government welfare programs can never do: adding warmth, love, and a human face to material help for those who might have little or nothing at all.

That’s why whenever I see a Salvation Army kettle and bell-ringer at a supermarket or a shopping complex, I reach for my wallet, even several times a day. The Salvation Army is the nation’s biggest and most effective private charity–and it accepts almost no federal subsidies because it doesn’t want government interference in its religious mission. Instead, the Army quietly goes about feeding, housing, and clothing millions of needy Americans year after year, especially during the holiday season. And the Army, unlike the bureaucrats who man the welfare system, also tries to turn lives around.

Nearly every year, though, the Army has to do battle with some Scrooge or other of a retailer who decides that the kettles are too declasse for a hoity-toity fashion mall or might interfere with holiday sales. This year, it’s the Target chain, which has banned the Army bell-ringers, using the argument that if it lets them stand in front of its doors, it will have to let every other Tom, Dick or Harry of a solicitor do likewise, or Target could get sued. Funny–other big retailers such as Wal-Mart (which also has a solicitation ban) don’t seem to see the legal situation that way, and they’re letting the Army ring its bells.

Many Target shoppers are outraged at the new policy, and Hugh Hewitt, writing in the Weekly Standard, urges an e-mail campaign to persuade Target’s executives to change their minds (click here and scroll down to reach an e-mail link to Target). Hewitt quotes this chilling passage from Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol,” in which a gentleman raising money for a charity that helps out London’s hungry and destitute begs miserly Ebenezer Scrooge for a donation on Christmas Eve:
“‘Are there no prisons?’ asked Scrooge.

“‘Plenty of prisons,’ said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“‘And the union workhouses?’ demanded Scrooge. ‘Are they still in operation?’

“‘They are, still,’ returned the gentleman, ‘I wish I could say they were not.’

“‘The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour then?’ said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.’

“‘Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,’ said Scrooge. ‘I am very glad to hear it.’

“‘Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christmas cheer of mind or body to the multitude,’ returned the poor gentleman, ‘a few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?’

“‘Nothing!’ Scrooge replied.”

Dickens knew well that if there’s anything worse than being down and out, it’s the cold dehumanization of the welfare state. That’s why it’s important that private, religiously motivated charities such as the Salvation Army get help from all of us so that all can share in this season of warmth, light, and good cheer.