Thursday, November 27, 2008

Taking stock, and giving thanks

It’s late November in the northeast. Early to dark, light at a premium, with winter’s icy fingers clawing at our doorways. While ice and snow will be flying soon (we got a preview, earlier in the week, particularly to the north and west), it’s the economic storminess that concerns me the most.

I read a newspaper story on Tuesday, about how food shelters are seeing an increase in people using their services, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture study indicating that 13.3 percent of Maine families are suffering from “food insecurity”—the study’s term for hunger. Only Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas and Arkansas had higher percentages. Maine doesn’t make national top fives often, and this isn’t the kind of dubious honor any state is looking to have heaped on them. For those keeping score, that’s 72,086 households who at some point over three years (the study was based on a rolling average between 2005 and 2007) struggled with having ample food for their families because they couldn't afford it.

In the same story, there was a quote from Mark Swann, executive director of Portland’s Preble Street Resource Center, indicating the seriousness of this winter’s need.

"I have done this work a long time and I've always avoided and even been careful not to say the following: I've never seen things this bad," said Mark Swann, executive director of the Preble Street Resource Center.

"I have literally never seen this kind of situation, sort of a perfect storm -- terrible economy, heating costs, the housing costs, employment concerns, the significant drop in food donations, in food from the federal government."

I volunteered at Preble Street five years ago. When someone like Swann, with his wealth of experience meeting the needs of the marginalized, and someone not given to hyperbole makes a statement like that, you take notice.

Shelters like Preble Street will be jammed with folks this Thanksgiving. In Waterville, Paul Morency, who operates the Midnight Blues Club, is providing 300 in the city, with a free Thanksgiving dinner, as his way of giving back to his community. Guests will be served turkey with all the trimmings—gravy, stuffing, mashed potato, squash, cranberry sauce, rolls and desserts. Morency is hoping for a good turnout.

"The more the merrier," he said. "We'll seat everybody and some of my staff have volunteered their time to come in, and I'll be there with my family as well."

In the Skowhegan area, anonymous donors have made it possible for two restaurants to feed another 300 people Thanksgiving dinner.

At the Empire Grill, an anonymous donor surfaced with an offer to foot the bill for 140 meals. Earlier in the week an anonymous donor said he would pick up the tab for 160 dinners at the What's For Supper restaurant in nearby Norridgewock, five miles away.

I’ll be traveling to the Granite State for Thanksgiving this year. I’m thankful for quite a bit this year. A job, particularly one that I love and one where I can impact people positively. My health is good, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Life is good for me right now, but I also recognize that many others are struggling during these difficult times. Be aware of that and do what you can do to support places like Preble Street and other shelters that are helping folks through tough times in their lives.

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