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It's been a tough year, and we face an uncertain future. Small acts of kindness can mean a lot.

COURTESY PHOTO - Five-year-old Carver poses with the toy of The Child, a.k.a. Baby Yoda, that he donated to firefighters last month.Scappoose is in the news for all the right reasons.

A special donation from a 5-year-old Scappoose boy has been bringing cheer to wildland firefighters in Oregon and beyond. Not only the Spotlight and its sister papers in badly burned Clackamas County, but major East Coast publications like the Washington Post and the New York Post, have picked up on the story of "Baby Yoda," the Star Wars character who is taking a break from his travels with "The Mandalorian" to visit with first responders on the front lines during an unprecedented wildfire season.

The Child, as the character is officially called, is the object of wonder in the Disney+ television series for his ability to miraculously heal grievous injuries. While the toy version isn't strong enough in the Force to repair the damage and destruction that wildfires have dealt to the West in recent weeks, it has brought the healing touch to weary firefighters who are putting themselves in harm's way to protect property and contain some of the largest blazes in Oregon's history.

"A couple people broke down in tears," one firefighter told the Associated Press, describing the arrival of the toy and an encouraging note as "a really big morale boost" for his crew. "It just really meant a lot to us and it was really emotional for a lot of people."

We've written in these pages before about the myriad challenges that Oregonians have confronted in 2020.

While Columbia County hasn't been nearly as hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic as the tri-county area, restrictions and regulations have still walloped local businesses and shuttered local schools, and at least one Columbia County man has lost his life to the virus.

While Columbia County wasn't affected by evacuation orders as wildfires broke out across western Oregon last month, smoke from those fires still polluted our air to hazardous levels for the better part of a week.

And while Columbia County's unemployment rate has closely tracked with the state average, coming in well under that of Multnomah County in the most recent report, the county has struggled for years with below-average educational attainment rates and median per-capita income and a high rate of commuting outside the county for work, leaving many residents in a precarious place.

None of these are easy problems to solve. COVID-19 isn't going away without an effective and widely available vaccine, and even then, experts say it could hang around in a post-pandemic phase. Climate change means we should expect devastating wildfires to become more frequent and less predictable. Jobs and the economy are a perennial issue in Columbia County and beyond, as old industries and their employees struggle to adapt to new realities and new businesses struggle to establish themselves and put down roots in a competitive market.

But no one is giving up. Portland Community College and local high schools are investing in job skills training, as exemplified by the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center in Scappoose. Researchers and medical experts are working overtime to develop treatments and, hopefully, a near-future inoculation against the coronavirus. And, of course, firefighters and volunteers are giving it their all to vanquish the wildfires, notching notable successes as they halted the advance of flames toward populated areas of Clackamas, Marion, Lane and Jackson counties last month.

And as Yoda — the real Yoda — would remind us, we should judge people and their actions not by their size.

A 5-year-old boy, shopping with his grandmother, thought that firefighters could use a friend — one not that much smaller than himself. That small gesture from a boy and his grandma, passed forward by a local animal dentist who stepped up to coordinate donations, gratefully accepted by front-line responders, has made a difference. It has brought joy in a time of anguish, light in a time of darkness and hope in a time of despair.

The problems we face are large and the answers are difficult. But we don't always have to do a lot. Sometimes, a little is enough.


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