Gratitude And Generosity Can Be Contagious

This Thanksgiving many of us will gather around tables that are filled with every kind of food and vegetable imaginable. We will gather with family and friends. We will celebrate a national holiday that commemorates ...

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This Thanksgiving many of us will gather around tables that are filled with every kind of food and vegetable imaginable. We will gather with family and friends. We will celebrate a national holiday that commemorates the first Thanksgiving celebrated by our forefathers and mothers.

As we enjoy tables of abundance, there will be people among us who will not have a table to gather around. They will spend the day looking for a soup kitchen or church that might be serving a meal. After finding that meal, that same person or family will spend the rest of the day searching for a safe, warm and clean place to stay.

It is hard to imagine in the richest, most powerful nation in the world, on one of our most cherished holidays, people will go hungry and even sleep in our streets, in our woods or along our train tracks.

With all our abundance and generosity, there are still entirely too many people, especially children that go hungry every day.

One could try to make a case that healthy adults living in the land of opportunity should not be hungry or homeless, and if they are, it is their own fault. Whether we agree or disagree, their children did not create their hunger or homelessness. The National Children's Defense Fund reports that over one hundred thousand children will sleep in our streets tonight. If that statistic is even remotely true, it is a scandal.

In light of that context, our community is amazing. The food baskets prepared by local churches, temples, civic groups and service clubs is amazing. One college student alone from a local South Shore liberal arts college collected a thousand bags of food for people in need this Thanksgiving.

The restaurant of a local country club has prepared hundreds of meals for local families in need. Hundreds of adults and young people have volunteered to serve the needy and share a meal with them.

The outpouring of compassion and generosity from our larger community is an inspiration. What inspires me most is that this giving to others transcends race, color, religion and economic standing. People from every walk of life are sharing some of what they have with those who have little or nothing.

Thanksgiving initiates the holiday season around the country. If we could only bottle this spirit of generosity and concern for others and tap into it all year long.

This year Americans have been called to dig deeper than ever before. The record number of natural disasters has been overwhelming. Between hurricanes, earthquakes and the deep sense of loss caused by war, people in our local community have gone beyond just being generous and have not neglected their local charities or their religious institutions.

Our children have sold lemonade on street corners. Our teenagers have held dance marathons and bike races for Katrina relief. What has been amazing is that many of these activities have spontaneously occurred through the sole initiation of young people. Adults were not the prime initiators.

Gratitude and generosity can be contagious. In recent months, I have run into so many people who want to give back a little something because they feel so blessed. They don't merely want to write a check, they also want to share their time and talent.

So much of the hospitality and outreach to the poor and needy in our county is done by volunteers. In our own county, our government is choosing to do less for people in crisis. The religious community, the local volunteer community and the not-for-profit community are stepping up and providing a continuum of human services for those in crisis.

They too solicit our financial support. People across the county have been responding in record numbers. That tremendous response has provided support for thousands of families with children who would otherwise not be celebrating Thanksgiving this year.

However, even with all that support and generosity, there are still record numbers of families that have nothing. There are a growing number of veterans who have developed a range of mental illnesses. They are afraid of the Veterans Administration and are estranged from their families. They are living in the woods, along the train tracks on both shores and are calling abandoned cars home.

Unfortunately, those who struggle among us are often those invisible faces who too often are forgotten after the holiday season passes.

Contrary to what the system says with its' faulty statistics, the amount of people in crisis is not lessening. In some corridors of government, they have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye. The truth of the matter is that because of the economy, rising utility prices, unemployment and addiction, the number of displaced families in need of support services is increasing every day.

Last year, Mary and her three children fell on hard times. The year before, she and her children were living a life of privilege on the North Shore. Her husband was making more than six figures. His excellent income allowed her to be a stay at home Mom. He worked long hours in the city. The commute, the fiscal obligations they had, meeting taxes and other expenses to live on Long Island were taking their toll.

Things between Mary and her husband were becoming more strained. Initially she thought it was the wear and tear of his demanding job, a horrible commute and raising three children.

By late fall of last year, this perfect little family was shattered because of drug abuse. Her husband of twelve years was arrested in New York City for selling crack cocaine to an undercover cop. Mary's husband was the one who had always taken care of all the finances. He was months behind on the large mortgage and unbeknownst to Mary, he had drained all of the family savings. One moment she was living the American dream and the next she was living in a family shelter with her three children.

Her husband went to jail. She and her children were left with nothing. However, she was determined not to get stuck in our welfare system. Although geographically displaced from their home, the law allowed her children to continue in their school district, even though they traveled forty-five minutes every day. She continued to attend her church. Word went out about her and her plight. A few families came forward to help her with rent. She had not worked in years, but had a Masters' degree. Her education and a local connection helped her to get a reasonable job.

Last Thanksgiving, she and her children had Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter. Thanks to many hands and hearts, she and her children will have Thanksgiving in their own home this year. However, she will spend most of the day as a volunteer in the soup kitchen that made all the difference in her families' life last year.

Thanks to a community that cares, another family has been given a second chance to live again!

Happy Thanksgiving!