Take the time to reach out

December 12, 2012 02:05 pm
In a recent interview, I steered the topic to the natural beauty of our surroundings and how it draws people to Wallowa County. A woman replied, “It’s the natural beauty that attracts people and it’s our community that keeps them. Our social capital and level of caring is extraordinary.”

Another interviewee said $5,000 was raised at last Wednesday night’s pie auction for Luke Behnke, suffering from a disc disorder, at the Lostine Tavern.

Jars bedeck store counters when tragedy strikes – whether an illness, accident or house-destroying fire. 

This week wreaths go on sale at the Wallowa County Farmers Market building to help defray Brandy Starmer’s medical costs incurred with her fight against cancer.

The list goes on and on. Les Schwab collects Toys For Tots. The Elks Christmas baskets are an enduring outpouring of generosity from the community. The Tree of Giving, displayed at Enterprise Flower Shop, is an opportunity for people to put a present under a neighbor’s tree.

The Soroptimist and Rotary clubs challenged each other with a food drive, and Rotary collected coats and winter apparel for those in need. Members of the ranching community regularly donate hamburger to the Community Connection food bank.

Despite higher than national average unemployment, rural Oregonians always seem to dig deep into their pockets and find something to contribute. Sometimes it’s not money, but time, that’s needed.

A conversation cycles around every once in a while regarding the visibility, or lack, of abject poverty and homelessness. There are no panhandlers on our main streets, no tent cities under bridges – the homeless are hidden mostly because someone shares their roof with them.

Then the question is, how best to help when those in need may blend into the background?

I spent eight years as a volunteer at an organization in Boulder, Colo. I met with an interfaith group once a month that supported the local AIDS nonprofit. We sponsored a candlelight vigil in the spring, a World AIDS Day Service in December and a couple other services a year. We also contributed to the food bank.

After several years at this I got discouraged. I had no one-on-one interaction with the clients and felt a disconnect between the interfaith group and the sick people we supported. I voiced my concern to the director who said, “Filling the shelves of the food bank is enough.”

Feeding people is not enough, but it’s a good place to start.

When trying to take away the pain of loss or the bite of poverty, there’s no complete answer, but the love we can show by taking the time to reach out – donating to one of the county’s food banks, a coat or a toy for under a child’s tree can make a happier Christmas for the giver as well as the receiver.