During the holidays, many people do their best to be good to those around them. But it is really special when people demonstrate that sort of caring spirit all year long.
Recent St. Petersburg Times stories have highlighted two groups of people in Pinellas County who deserve accolades for their compassion and goodwill toward others.
Safety Harbor firefighters worked hard to douse a mobile home fire last month, but the home and everything in it was destroyed. It was a tragedy for the woman and her adult daughter who lived there — they even lost their car in the blaze.
The 25 members of Safety Harbor Professional Firefighters Local 2267 didn't want the women to be homeless for the holidays. So they bought the women another mobile home in the same park, Safety Harbor Mobile Home Park, using $2,500 from their union charity fund. The women were in their new home by Thanksgiving.
Safety Harbor firefighters may be few — the entire department has only 31 employees — but they have a big impact on the lives of local people who endure misfortune. Earlier this year they also helped purchase a handicapped-accessible van for Andrew Hall, a young Safety Harbor man whose leg was severed when he was hit by a drunken driver. And after buying the mobile home, the union still handed $500 to the Safety Harbor Neighborhood Family Center to buy food and toys for the center's low-income clients.
Firefighters see a lot of pain in their work, whether answering medical calls or fighting fires. Safety Harbor firefighters do more than their job — they do all they can to help people recover from those tragedies and go on with their lives.
The second group of compassionate helpers is even smaller — six retired women who decided not to sit at home and let their health and their neighborhood decline.
The women, who range in age from 60 to 83, live in Bartlett Park in St. Petersburg, a neighborhood that has struggled with blight, drug sales and violence. Given that environment, they could have been excused for remaining closeted in the safe cocoons of their homes.
But the women started walking every morning to improve their health. And as they walked, they saw up close all the trash that littered Bartlett Park. So they brought along bags every day and collected trash. They did it for the neighborhood. Soon the streets were looking better, and people started to notice.
The women, who dubbed their group "Feet With Prayer," said they are praying that their efforts will encourage other Bartlett Park residents to pick up and clean up. They believe that will give them more pride in their homes and neighborhood and help bring the community back from the brink. It has worked in other places; it can work in Bartlett Park.
Now the women are going beyond just picking up trash. They also have started lobbying the city to inspect vacant properties for code violations and do something about garbage truck crews that let litter escape when they empty trash bins in the alleys. The women have adopted the hymn, May the Work I've Done Speak for Me, as their anthem.
So many Americans today are busy, stressed and absorbed by their own problems. At Christmastime they may reach out to others — put money in the red kettle, take a box of food to a food bank, send a check to their favorite charity or two — but the spirit of giving retreats after the holidays. With role models like these in Safety Harbor and St. Petersburg, may we resolve to demonstrate a caring spirit all year long.