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Published: Saturday, 12/7/2002

Citizens can show more care than congressmen

BY ROSE RUSSELL

Look, Americans are already too fat and have too much stuff.

Most could get through these holidays with fewer favorite desserts and dishes, and fewer gifts, and then save money, too.

But if everyone did that, and no one will, it wouldn't help the economy, and helping the economy helps us all.

Certainly hunger and the need for aid know no season, but have you read reports about area charities' growing lists of people who seek help for food and Christmas assistance? Charities say requests are up from 30 to 50 percent this holiday.

And the needy are everywhere. When Jim Brenizer, head of community outreach services for Lucas County's First Call for Help, said, “It's everywhere,” he made clear that people in dire straits don't all live in one ZIP Code.

With 24,000 people seeking help to feed their families, find housing, or to pay utility and medical bills, First Call for Help says that's 8,000 more than they aided in 2001. Plus, five Toledo food kitchens serve 25,000 meals monthly. They say that's 30 percent more than they served last year.

Charities in Ottawa and Fulton counties also report increases in the number of people asking for help to buy food, toys for Christmas, and to pay utilities.

Among those on charities' lists are the unemployed, who, thanks to Congress, won't have unemployment benefits after the next few weeks. The 107th Congress went home for the holidays without extending the season's spirit of kindness to unemployed Americans.

Surely our congressmen are busy right now giving significant portions of their taxpayer-supported salaries to the economy so they and their families can have a great holiday.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 28, some 800,000 people, including 22,000 Ohioans, will lose unemployment benefits. The benefits of another 95,000 people will stop the following week. In early 2003, the national unemployment rate is expected to be 6.1 percent. In Lucas County, it is 6.8 percent.

But because congressional Republicans and Democrats didn't set aside their differences and find common ground to extend unemployment benefits to the Americans who need it, northwest Ohioans who can help can't sit by and do nothing.

Nobody suggests that people max out their credit cards or get into other financial trouble trying to help others buy food for their tables or toys for their children.

But here's an idea. What you'd usually spend to buy a few more gifts for your loved ones or for the ingredients to make a few more dishes or desserts for the family dinner, why not give that to needy families so they can have a nice holiday, too?

Who, in the homes of you who can afford it, will miss one less pie, one less cake, one less favorite dish, or one less present?

Most of us probably know a family who can use the help. But be careful about giving cash. Many willing to lend a hand prefer to personally buy gifts, food, or pay a bill for the people who need the extra help, and that's a good idea.

Don't overlook checking with charitable agencies, which require proof of one's financial status. Going through charities helps protect the generous from donating to people who don't really need assistance, but who only want help to fill up their gas-guzzling SUV.

Then, be sure to tell those in financial strain to register to vote, if they are not already. Tell them to show the same compassion at the ballot box to their congressmen who failed to extend unemployment benefits for unemployed Americans in this sour economy.



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