Simple Gifts in Troubled Times

Posted on 26 November 2008

Those who have followed this paper with anything approaching regularity know that we have written many times over the years about the need to remember those who are less fortunate than ourselves as the holidays approach. It has always been an important message and a vital reminder in this playground of excess. After all, we all know how easy it is for people to forget what matters most when they are flush with the bloom of good times.

But the bloom is fading quickly. In the face of the blackening economic picture, the phrase “trickle down economics” has taken on a new sinister meaning and we are all worried. Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, even untouchable Citibank have toppled like giant dominoes and here on the East End it feels like we’re all standing in their falling shadows. Times are growing tough, this time at all levels of society — including for those lions of Wall Street and masters of the universe.

Locally, even the recently founded Georgica Bank has had to call it quits given the difficulties principals have encountered in raising capital during these uncertain times. Suddenly, it seems we find there is a much narrower gap between the haves and the have-nots. For the first time in living memory, many of those “haves” are becoming “have-beens” as stock portfolios collapse, jobs evaporate and adjustable rate jumbo mortgages go into arrears.

And as companies slide into the abyss, so too, do those folks who depend on them. It may not be long before many local people find themselves slipping to the other side, especially those whose livelihood depended on the success of Wall Street. What will they find when they get to that side? A world where they have to push their old car another 10,000 miles, make a winter coat last one more season or rely on local pantries to help stretch the food budget a little farther so they won’t have to make the choice between eating and staying warm.

This is the stuff of the Depression, not the 21st century. Or is it? Turns out what was unthinkable just five, or even one year ago is our new reality. It also seems like the message — and spirit — of Thanksgiving is taking on particularly poignant meaning this trip around the old calendar.

Things are, indeed, different this year.

But what we find has not changed is the way in which Sag Harbor residents come through in tough times. With King Kullen opting to not give away free turkey coupons to customers for the first time in memory this year, Lillian Woudsma from the Sag Harbor Food Pantry put out the call for help. The community came through and the turkeys poured in — enough to provide one for every local family who will rely on the pantry for their Thanksgiving meal this year. That’s 75 families in need, a high for the pantry and 25 to 30 more than last year. But volunteerism is up as well, and Woudsma has found many ready hands to make light work of the job.

Those turkey dinners will be topped off with fresh pies made by the members of St. Andrew’s youth group. The kids gave up their weekend to make pies from apples they picked themselves and through the generosity of local restaurant owners, found ovens where they could bake all those pies, which were distributed to pantries all over the East End.

Over in North Haven, Kathie Russo has decided to turn her annual holiday fete into a fundraiser for a good cause — Time for Teens, an organization that provides an annual summer bereavement retreat for teens who have suffered the loss of a loved one. For the price of a ticket, party goers can send a grieving teen to the four day retreat. As Kathie so eloquently put it, “It’s really bad out there. I don’t want to hear about extravagant vacations from friends, but how they gave back to the community.” And on Saturday the Koehnes will host their annual fundraiser, in their son’s name, that will benefit children who turn to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

With Christmas on the horizon followed by the rest of the long winter, we can only hope that people will continue to be generous of spirit and kind of heart. Because remember, come January 1, the need doesn’t go away. There will still be those in our midst in need of food, shelter and support from people who care.

And we know we can count on Sag Harbor to help lend a hand.

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