Christmas is all about the spiritual: Christians recall the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and welcome him into our hearts. Of course there is the other side, which advertising won’t let you forget.

Once a year, Christmas (and Hanukkah) opens a flood of gift-buying for loved ones. The National Retail Federation projects Americans will spend $465 billion on holiday gifts this year, up 2.8 percent from last year. If the recent “black Friday” was an indicator, the season is off to a good start. Consumers on Nov. 25 spent $52 billion, an average of $398 per person. That’s just one day.

The U.S. economy surely needs the shot in the arm it gets from higher consumer spending. Some needs, however, are more fundamental, such as the need to eat. The frenzy of spending obscures the growing specter of hunger, even in our area. But there is help for the hungry.

Last year Philabundance, the region’s largest hunger relief organization, distributed 18 million pounds of food to residents. Even so, it reports that its network of agencies saw 26 percent more people coming to them for food over the last year. And 2010’s numbers of hungry people were 22 percent higher than 2009.

The need is big — 900,000 people in the Delaware Valley unsure of where their next meal will come from, Philabundance estimates — and growing.  Nutritional Development Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia works to meet the needs of hungry people, especially children. Every year NDS runs its holiday food drive after its peanut butter and jelly drive in the fall, which this year netted 75,000 pounds of the sandwich stuff donated by local Catholic school students. This year the holiday drive will be extended through January, instead of concluding as it normally does by mid-December.

Also, NDS is helping Catholic school children learn how to identify the most nutritious foods for the least money. With that knowledge, children shop online at the grocery web site, which has made a generous donation, along with Giant supermarkets. The partnership shows how individuals, corporate sponsors and Church agencies can work together to place good food on the tables where it is needed most (contact Anne Ayella at NDS, 215-895-3470, to learn more about the initiative).