When Hurricane Sandy devastated downstate a few weeks ago, residents of upstate could certainly relate, having lived through Hurricane Irene last year. They understood the pain and loss people have experienced, how hard it will be and long it will take to rebuild their lives, if not their homes.
That’s because they’ve either been through it themselves or watched others, especially in Schoharie County, go through it. And because so many upstaters once lived in New York City or its environs, or know someone who did or does now.
Those connections have heightened the usual empathy and compassion that a crisis brings out in people, and led to a huge outpouring of generosity, much like after Irene. Capital Region residents and organizations have donated money, food, blankets, clothing, even an ambulance, to the numerous charities and agencies aiding Sandy’s victims. Many have traveled to the metropolitan area to clean up, rebuild, provide medical assistance, or help any way they can.
It’s particularly fitting that all this should be happening around Thanksgiving, because generosity, not only of material things but spirit, is what this holiday is all about.
It is a time to be thankful for what we have — whether that's family, health, a job, a home, enough to eat — but also to be thoughtful and helpful toward those who have not.
This isn't a bad idea the rest of the year, either. Poverty, hunger and homelessness don’t take holidays, and trying to alleviate them shouldn’t be limited to holidays or crises. Food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, programs like Habitat for Humanity need help in every season.
At the same time, voluntary agencies and charities will never be enough. Democrats and Republicans both agree that there should be more charity, but they disagree on the role of government. Food pantries are fine, but can’t replace food stamps. The Red Cross is fine, but you’d better have FEMA and government help when it comes to a disaster — as even New Jersey’s conservative governor, Chris Christie, made clear when he praised President Obama and the federal response after Hurricane Sandy.