THE local food banks can't keep up with demand. That's how bad it is out here. The food pantry at the Salvation Army in a neighboring town almost had to close at the end of last month to restock, a crisis it has never faced before in decades of service to the needy.
But where area charities and churches used to receive a scattering of calls throughout the week for food and shelter, they now take emergency requests for help several times a day. And people who used to pride themselves on donating cans of soup, vegetables, tuna fish, and more to fill the food bank shelves, now show up to get boxes of whatever staples someone else donates.
It is an extremely humiliating experience for many who once earned good money behind a computer in an office, at a furniture or car factory, or a plant making auto parts, dishwashers, steel, you-name-it. They never dreamed of seeking charity handouts to put food on the table.
They could always provide for their own families. Until now. But the unrelenting economic storm currently buffeting the country is different. It's a lot scarier. Conditions just continue to deteriorate.
As one laid off steelworker in Ohio said, "Right now we're looking through the tunnel and not seeing any light at the end."
Sure enough. Open the newspaper on any given day and there are headlines about job losses somewhere - 1.2 million and rising - this year. And last month the nation's unemployment rate jumped to its highest level in 14 years.
The faceless people behind the staggering numbers come from all walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds. When legendary financial institutions collapsed on Wall Street recently or folded into other firms, whole departments were eliminated and scores of positions were abruptly gone, including many that once came with six-figure incomes.
In Rust Belt states like Ohio, a severe decline in the manufacturing activity has taken a huge toll on countless families. And the hits keep on coming. In Lorain, a steel plant will lay off 300 to 400 employees next month - just in time for Christmas.
In Clyde, a washing machine plant is cutting 250 jobs, which makes about 950 Whirlpool workers in Ohio laid off altogether. When DHL, a giant shipping operation, leaves its Wilmington hub, so will nearly 10,000 jobs.
And in little Norwalk, a century-old furniture company went out of business, pushing roughly 500 employees into the unemployment lines. From the hundreds to the handfuls, terse announcements about job cuts are never-ending.
Whether it's store closings across the country, 10 percent of the work force being slashed, or factories suspending shifts indefinitely, nobody's job is safe as long as nobody is buying products or services.
For many industries, the bottom has simply fallen out of the market and the domino effect on all kinds of related jobs has rattled plenty.
Add credit-tightening and dropping consumer confidence to the equation and the result is a bunker mentality in businesses and private households. The reaction to really scary times won't hasten economic recovery, but it's understandable.
The only goal is survival as company earnings plunge, quarterly losses shock, and forecasts call for more of the same. The fear is we're entering a vicious cycle of less consumer spending, less business production, and even more layoffs.
But how paralyzed we allow ourselves to become by powerful fear of the unknown will have a lot to do with when we see light at the end of the tunnel again. Faith in a turnaround can be a powerful force too.
While it's true that many of the jobs lost this year will never return, it's also true that, given the opportunity, this nation can rebuild itself in dramatic fashion. It can become even stronger, putting people back to work and creating jobs in entirely new industries unique to the demands of the 21st century.
But right now the challenge for the unemployed is to not lose hope and for the anxious employed not to horde. Right now, selflessness needs to reassert itself in America along with the lost concept of sacrifice for the common good.
Now, in a darkening time of the year, our jobless friends and neighbors and maybe family desperately need a bailout, but one that helps without hurting wounded pride. Keeping the local food banks full is a start, but showing genuine compassion by giving back what bounty we have to share, isn't a bad place to begin either.