Inherent in every crisis is the opportunity to do good. Look at any event, and neighbors and citizens are there for each other. We are quick to open our wallets and write checks and make micro-donations. We’re also very good at rolling up our sleeves and pitching in during times of need; my guess is that it hearkens back to the days of barn raisings, when neighbors pulled together to help a family get the job done. We provide expertise, the right equipment and sweat equity in addition to food, clothing and a roof. My parents used to make sandwiches for the volunteer firefighters when difficult blazes in the hills of Northwestern Connecticut kept crews working for long stretches. In mid-August, during the most threatening days of the California Rim Fire burning in Yosemite National Park, the locals jumped in their vehicles and knocked on doors to help neighbors evacuate. In Kailua, Hawaii, friends call friends when they receive early word of a tsunami threat, and start making the move to higher ground even before the official alarm has sounded. In Los Alamos, New Mexico, wildfires have spread through populated mesas and even through the town, and each time, locals have evacuated to other neighbors’ homes farther away from the blaze. When winds push the flames even closer to the evacuated area, the host family and guests caravan to other homes of colleagues, friends and family where they camp out in living rooms and track the fire from a safe distance. And we don’t forget about pets and livestock, either. We choose to help people at home and around the country and the globe. That’s just our way.
Pictures representing the partial government shutdown aren’t as dramatic as photos taken from helicopters of flood, hurricane and ice storm ravaged areas. Furloughed workers aren’t clinging to poles as flood waters sweep away everything in sight. Well, not literally, anyway. We can’t forget, however, that for those of us not directly encumbered by the shutdown and experiencing it through media, it remains a federal emergency and quite possibly a disaster with dire personal, local, state, federal and even international consequences.
Here’s one illustrative anecdote. A friend of mine shopping at her local Safeway yesterday said that many young Marines were pushing grocery carts there. The store is located just outside a Marine Corps base, but the commissary was closed due to the shutdown. My friend was next in line to be checked out, and heard the cashier ask the young couple in front of her for their Safeway card to receive the discounted prices on some items. It was a $249 transaction. My friend said the wife had a puzzled look on her face and responded they didn’t have a card. My friend said, “WAIT!” and put in her card number that gave the couple a savings of over $70. Most importantly, my friend asked the manager if he can’t help with this and scan a card for people in this situation. “Lamely and unsympathetically,” my friend told me, “he said he could be fired for that.” My friend implored him to contact the corporate office.
Think back to the news coverage just after the planes flew into the Twin Towers. This one detail sticks in my memory – I recall a reporter saying that firefighters were buying bottles of water from a nearby Starbucks. I had the same reaction as my friend yesterday – Can’t they help these firefighters and just give them the water? Eventually, the store did exactly this, but the initial news did not present the best public relations campaign for the coffee shop.
Let’s step up, people! I’m calling on grocery and hardware stores and pharmacies to offer deep discounts to people furloughed. The establishments can reinstitute their pricing to these hundreds of thousands of citizens once the Congress-approved back pay checks have been cut and delivered to these workers.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about some of the more global implications people might not have considered. In the meantime, this is a public emergency so please lend a hand.
October 8, 2013