The word “Thanksgiving” resonates throughout our great nation as an opportunity to pause to count our blessings.
Of course, for many it is often an opportunity for family gatherings with turkey dinners followed by televised sports. But even those without religious leanings can take a moment before we settle into watching Chicago vs. Detroit or Buffalo vs. Dallas to celebrate the abundance of good we see around us.
Here on the North Coast, we have much to celebrate, not least the beauty of our Columbia River and Pacific Ocean setting. Perhaps in these divided times it is the one thing we can all agree on — that we have something here that is truly worth protecting.
The story of our national holiday is embroidered in the fabric of American life. Thanksgiving has its origin in the 1621 feast staged by Puritan settlers who fled persecution in England, endured an arduous ocean journey, then survived the first year of the Plymouth Colony. They joined with Native Americans to celebrate the first harvest, and set the table for every celebration that followed.
Our two greatest presidents had a hand in cementing Thanksgiving’s place in U.S. culture. George Washington proclaimed a day of thanksgiving for victories in the revolution that created our nation. And Abraham Lincoln solidified the regularity of the celebration during the Civil War.
As we recall this rich heritage, and savor all aspects of our nation of plenty, we should pause to commend those on the North Coast who are doing their part to help the less affluent among us with the basic necessities of life.
There can be few higher callings than providing shelter from the winter cold, offering nourishing food and a helping hand to those for whom the modern times are a daily struggle for existence. We must never forget that our less-fortunate neighbors are part of the fabric of our community. The manner in which we treat them is a reflection of the depth of our humanity.
Those working for Clatsop Community Action are dedicated to helping people meet housing, food and other basic living needs. This happens in large part through a regional food bank that has seen soaring increases in the amount of meals and food supplies.
An astonishing 1 in 4 residents of Clatsop County qualify for emergency food assistance. Seniors on fixed and limited incomes, plus way too many children, make up a large proportion of this number.
While we can lament the iniquities in an economic system that has created this, it’s pleasing to take a moment to commend those seeking to meet the needs of those less fortunate.
One such group, Filling Empty Bellies, seeks to help the homeless with meals and laundry services in Astoria. Its motto is one we could all adopt and learn from. “We serve meals without discrimination or judgment, because we believe in love, humanity, empathy, connection, second chances, and in the worthiness of every human being.”
Its founder began making sandwiches for eight people. Now helpers feed up to 50 people a day, six days a week. Extra services include haircuts, advocacy, baby supplies, school supplies and clothing for children, plus referrals to other resources.
Helping Hands operates shelters and reentry programs in Astoria and Seaside that help the homeless. From small beginnings 15 years ago, it has grown to serve about 200 people a night in Clatsop, Tillamook, Lincoln and Yamhill counties. It has an emphasis on sobriety; its leaders seek ways to restore independence for those they help.
North Coast churches play their part, too, providing practical help that goes beyond spiritual care. Some support the Astoria Rescue Mission, which provides shelter and practical support for those its leaders call, “the least, the last and the lost.”
It is a mission that those who operate the Astoria Warming Center seek to follow. From mid-November through mid-March, organizers watch the weather and open the basement of the First United Methodist Church as a temporary refuge when temperatures drop below 37 degrees or it is too rainy. This project will become even more important following the closure of church shelters in Warrenton and the Long Beach Peninsula.
All these groups need money to support their commendable operations and we call on readers to give generously. But all also need volunteers to step forward and play their part in providing these important but necessary nongovernment social services. Those who provide these services — most as volunteers — risk exhaustion and burnout. They need some respite.
As we seek to build a truly caring society, helping others who are less fortunate than ourselves must surely be the goal of us all.