In late August, the power was shut off at the River United Methodist Church. The church, in the heart of downtown Woonsocket, was about a thousand bucks in arrears on its electric bill. The guy from National Grid apologized for doing what he had to do.
Church members, who specialize in doing a whole lot with very little, scrambled to do what they always do. They took food from freezers and refrigerators and headed to a nearby park to feed hungry people.
The church runs a food pantry and distributes food packages, household goods and clothing. If necessary, it turns its meal site into an emergency shelter. It offers addiction counseling. It is a church with a small congregation that understands all too well the needs of people nearby. It relies heavily on donations.
But when the lights went out, people started showing up at River United Methodist who had never been there before. They were drawn by the most basic human need and by the example of good people doing good things in Woonsocket.
Russ Olivo wrote about the situation at the church in The Woonsocket Call. I wrote a column about it. I remember a woman who called to say she didn’t have a lot but was going to send part of what she did have to the church.
And the caring people at the Italian Workingmen’s Club on Diamond Hill Road came with a very healthy check. A few years back, those same people rallied to help a Cumberland family facing the devastation of a mother and father with terminal illness. The Italian Workingmen’s Club does good work.
The power was restored at the church. It won’t be the last time it faces a financial crunch. But it has shown us in these hard times how a clear and present and very human need can bring out the best of us.
I will always feel good about the connections. I think anyone who has ever been lucky enough to work for a newspaper, or for the kind of radio that actually values information, knows the special satisfaction that comes with bringing need and compassion and understanding together. We have a great opportunity to tap the generous spirit of all kinds of people.
On this, the best of holidays - the one without gifts or lawn ornaments - I have always liked to look back at some of the people who helped make the year warmer and better with their thoughtful responses to the plight of unknown neighbors. It is always the perfect antidote to the harsh divisions and desperate howling of those who would prey on misfortune rather than try to relieve it.
We need no better example of how common understanding and caring can help the neediest among us than that provided by President Obama on Thursday night when he told us of his plan to ease the heavy weight of uncertainty on millions of immigrants living in this country illegally. The president seemed to say enough with petty, pointless obstruction, with exploiting misery for political gain. He did the right thing.
Actually, people do the right thing all the time and don’t even book TV time. They just do it because they wouldn’t quite feel right if they didn’t.
Some ride bicycles absolutely ridiculous distances to raise money for cancer research.
Some sleep in cardboard shelters on the lawns of churches and public buildings to dramatize the needs of the homeless.
Some drive the streets with blankets and sandwiches and stop where blankets and sandwiches are needed.
Some are veterans who sit down with other veterans to try to find a way through the frightening haze of post-war confusion.
And some people really do keep a loose stack of dollar bills on the car console in case they should stop near a stoplight panhandler.
I have been lucky to know people who do what comes naturally. And what’s natural for them is to stop and actually see what’s wrong and try to do something about it. Sometimes, it is little more than a kind word, a quiet assurance that people and their problems are not invisible.
I have been fortunate to see the great Henry Shelton at events during the past few months. Henry is not in good health, but seeing him is one of those rare opportunities to see an indomitable spirit and be reminded of a voice that has always been there for the poor. I’ve stood at more than one door of a utility company with Henry as he tries to seek relief for those left in the cold. I will always be grateful that I could watch him work.
On this Thanksgiving week, my thanks begin and end with all those people who have seen and heard of things that are simply unacceptable and been unable to pass them by. They have at times walked into the paper where I used to work and handed me generous checks with a simple request to "make sure this gets to that woman and her two kids…” Two kids in Pawtucket gave up their holiday gifts because they had everything they needed and knew that other kids didn’t.
It’s always been the best part of the job, seeing those connections made and meeting people who come together to make a difference.
My thanks to all..