Putting the 'giving' in Thanksgiving
It's the time of year, the season of Thanksgiving, when Americans are encouraged to think of all the things they are thankful for.
That's well and appropriate. It's important to take stock of how fortunate we are — for good friends, loving families, food on the table, and roofs over our heads.
But it's also important to recognize that we need to be grateful for these things, because as basic as they seem, not everyone in our communities are lucky enough to share in them.
The holidays are a season to be thankful, but let's not forget they are also a season of giving.
There are people in dire need of help in our communities. Some of them are visible to us; Washington County's homeless population is more visible than ever, it seems. But many more are invisible to most of us: the countless families living with friends, relatives or out of their cars. Families whose children attend our public schools and don't have a real home to go to when the bell rings at the end of the day.
A story on our front page today includes a plea from the local chapter of the Salvation Army for volunteers and people in search of part-time seasonal work to be bell-ringers, collecting donations to support charitable efforts in our community. And on this page last week, we wrote about the dire situation a few hundred miles to the south, where people have been left homeless — in many cases losing nearly everything they owned — by fires that have virtually destroyed Paradise, Calif., burned through swaths of the Los Angeles suburb of Malibu, and left scars on several other communities across the state.
Paradise, a city about the size of Forest Grove near Chico, is not even the first American city to be leveled by an act of God this year, or even this fall. Hurricane Michael came ashore last month in the tiny city of Mexico Beach, Fla. The town, in the words of no less an authority than the administrator of FEMA, was "wiped out."
A thousand miles or so further out to sea, the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are still grappling with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which blasted the islands — home to roughly 3.5 million American citizens — last year. Poor-quality infrastructure, especially in more rural areas of Puerto Rico, along with a disorganized federal response and the geographic isolation of the territories, meant that millions went without power or running water for months. Many areas are still facing a rebuilding process expected to take years.
The United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. However, the Gini index, developed to measure income inequality, ranks it as roughly on par with the likes of Turkey and El Salvador among countries that have wide gaps between their "haves" and "have-nots" — albeit, at least, well ahead of the likes of Brazil and South Africa, where walled complexes coexist in places alongside ramshackle slums.
There is desperate need here at home: on the streets of Hillsboro and Forest Grove, in the burned lands of California, on the storm-lashed shores of Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. And for all the poverty and loss in the United States, there may be billions of people living with even less security in countries around the world.
No one person can fix all of this. We will be working to solve world hunger as long as we are working to find world peace. Within the century, and likely before 2050, all of us will feel the destabilizing effects of climate change, which will hit the developing world especially hard but isn't sparing the United States — or Oregon — either. To address homelessness here in the Portland metro area, voters just approved a bond measure that will pay for more low-income housing — but even the most optimistic leaders of that campaign acknowledge that it will only address a small portion of the current need.
The important thing is this: We cannot and will not be overwhelmed into inaction.
We banded together to approve a small property tax hike so that thousands of our neighbors can live under their own roofs. That was us, voters, making a democratic choice to be compassionate even if we incur a cost to ourselves.
Many of us already plan to give to charity this winter, or to volunteer for at least a few hours. There are plenty of causes we can choose to support, from programs at our local schools, to homeless shelters in Oregon, to globally active charities like the Red Cross, the Humane Society and Medical Teams International.
We do these things because giving, as it turns out, isn't a hard thing to do. Few are so fortunate as to never have to worry about how and when and where they spend their money. Some are stretched so thin already that they cannot spare a dime. But most of us, even though we don't make as much money as we'd like or live as comfortably as we'd hope, have the money, the time or both to give a little bit for people in need. In many cases, we can even claim our charitable contributions as a tax write-off.
We won't solve all the world's problems, but we can help out. We can do our part.
So in this season of Thanksgiving, consider what you can do to be of service. Think about others. Resolve to act. Then act.
After all, the sincerest form of gratitude is paying it forward.
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