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Helping hands ease hard times

Helping hands ease hard times

The need was great, the response overwhelming — thanks, in part, to the coverage provided by the St. Petersburg Times.

Through the generous donations of both food and funds, the caring, compassionate people of St. Petersburg and the surrounding communities enabled us to prepare and serve a record 624 Thanksgiving Day dinners to the hungry homeless men, women and children who visited our food center that day. Although it was but one dinner, the number we served was mighty close to the three meals, or 700, we serve every day of the year!

In addition, our donors' concern for the less fortunate allowed us, in the week preceding the holiday, to distribute 552 complete turkey dinner food baskets that fed an additional 2,152 indigent neighbors in their homes.

For many caught up in the economic maelstrom of lost incomes, evictions, foreclosures and other dire-need situations, it was the first time they found themselves in a "soup kitchen" on a holiday or the recipient of a basket of food. Although we knew we couldn't possibly resolve the myriad problems of our hundreds of guests, our goal was simply to provide a warm welcome, a festive atmosphere, a sumptuous meal and the assurance that people really do care about them and their struggles.

This was especially true of the 62 stalwart volunteers, including Gov. Charlie Crist and his gracious first-lady-to-be, Carole Rome, who filled those baskets, dished out the food, toted the trays, served the heaping plates, poured the beverages and finally cleared the tables and swept the floors. It was a small army of angels on a mission!

Our heartfelt thanks to each and every person whose contribution made this holiday a special one for so many who — this year, perhaps more than any other — needed to know they are not forgotten, they are loved and there is always hope and the prospect of a better tomorrow.

Patricia L. Waltrich, executive director, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, St. Petersburg

Let's return to the spirit of Christmas giving

This year, all we've heard about are the economic troubles facing our nation, our communities, our schools and our families. Every day we see articles in the newspaper about cutbacks, layoffs and bankruptcy. Many people have predicted that this will be the year without a Santa Claus.

Can we find it in ourselves, in this year of economic difficulty, to dig deep into our hearts and recover the true spirit of Christmas?

We're not talking about the religious aspect — that's a separate issue. We're talking about the spirit of thoughtful, sacrificial gift-giving and charity that has been superseded for far too long by materialism and a sense of entitlement.

Remember the poor young couple in The Gift of the Magi? The wife cuts and sells her beautiful hair to buy her husband a chain for his pocket watch, while the husband sells his prized pocket watch to buy his wife a set of hair combs. As little kids, most of us didn't like O. Henry's short story very much. But now that we're older, we realize the truth: The greatest gift of all is our love for one another.

This year, instead of going to the malls and buying expensive jewelry or technology, why not give gifts that truly come from the heart? Put some thought and creativity into your gift-giving. For grandma, a photo collage of her grandchildren. For mom, a set of homemade coupons that give her "One day free of complaints" or "Kids do all the dishes tonight." For dad, a personalized CD with songs that have special meaning in your family. For your in-laws, maybe you could finally hand over that secret family recipe you've been hoarding.

Spend time with your family. Count your blessings. Decorate the house together. Go on a walk around the neighborhood to admire the lights. Even better, go to the grocery store together and buy the Christmas feast — then take that feast to your nearest soup kitchen. Contact the PTA and pick out gifts for a needy family at school. Charities need more help this year than ever before. Let the hard times remind us to reach out to our families and the neediest in our community in the true spirit of Christmas.

Maybe Christmas, as Dr. Seuss said, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, this year, can mean a little bit more.

Emily and Bennett Cook, Tampa

Difficult questions

I find myself writing this letter out of frustration and discouragement. It is difficult to explain to my family that we are quickly sinking into the "pool of financial distress," which is unprecedented for us.

"How come you can't find a job, Dad? You have 35 years of experience, and two business degrees! Are we going to lose our house, Dad, if you can no longer pay the mortgage? Dad, what about things like going to the dentist and eye doctor? Will we stop doing that too? Will we have to give up the car, the phone, Internet and movies out? I don't understand, Dad, what happened?"

The questions are endless, and I try to explain: "Well, guys, as you know I was laid off from work in September this year, and everything costs more now. The homeowner's insurance tripled, auto insurance went up, we had to fix up the house, your brother is in college, the price of gas …" Sorry, kids, no Christmas tree this year, and we can't afford to string the lights outside because we need to save electricity. How do you spread hope, when it seems so hopeless?

It could be worse, so for that, we are thankful. Merry Christmas!

Gil Daniels, Palm Harbor

One memorable gift

I read with great dismay that people were dying in the rush to buy gadgets at bargain prices the day after Thanksgiving. What has become of us?

Recently my wife and I had lunch with visiting family members. As with many families, we talked about Christmas and Christmases past. My niece posed the question: What Christmas present from any of the past do we remember the most?

When my turn came, I remembered the dark days of World War II when I was a boy in England. There were so many shortages. It was the Christmas of 1942 when things were very bleak in Europe. That was when I received the most memorable gift in my stocking: an orange.

Those were dark days, indeed, and ships crossing the Atlantic bringing essentials for the war effort were being sunk almost daily by German U-boats. Merchant seamen from Britain, the United States and other countries went to their watery graves by the thousands trying to keep supplies arriving to save the world from a terrible darkness.

The children of Britain hadn't seen any tropical fruits or other delights since 1939 when the war began. However, on that dreary Christmas an effort was made to bring shiploads of oranges from the United States to the children. Each child was to receive an orange for Christmas. I will always remember that Christmas morning reaching into my stocking and pulling out that beautiful orange. It was the first one I had seen in three years, which can be a lifetime to a child. It was also the last orange I would see for another three or four years.

Today, living in Florida, where I have two orange trees loaded with fruit, I often think of those brave merchant seamen and navy men who gave so much so that we children could have a little joy at Christmas during the dark days of the war.

Now, all these years later, people are being trampled to satisfy the need for material goods. What has happened to us?

Tom Murphy, Tarpon Springs

Growth won't pay the bills in Florida Nov. 30

Leadership is lacking

While there is great concern at the federal level regarding the economy, it is astounding to see the absence of leadership in this area — with the exception of Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink who has been demanding action for many months. We are perplexed to see some of the leadership take a "wait-and-see" stand while feathering their own nests. The ceremonial activities in good times are all well and good, but it is in times of crisis that leadership must be had with solid action and authority.

The indicators of the pending decline began in 2006 and were noted by many in sounding the alarm. Free money, free housing, free vehicles, home-equity loans exceeding property valuations — all were unsustainable and we now have the predictable results. Thankfully, CFO Alex Sink, early on, began saving millions of dollars for Florida through her knowledgeable expertise. She should be heeded further at this time. Senate President Jeff Atwater, also an experienced man of finance, along with Sen. Mike Fasano, should be listened to by their fellow legislators and the administration. Fasano's stand, for many months, for taxing Internet sales could easily bring in an additional $3-billion to the state's coffers. Our resident retail merchants pay this, and out-of-state firms should not escape this.

We cannot cut and slash our way to prosperity on the backs of the frail elderly or other needy citizens. In Washington, the worthless TABOR commission proved the failure of government by committee. Our leadership and our Legislature must step up and act in this crisis as they fulfill their elected responsibilities. The citizens of Florida should demand nothing less. We have long passed the time for "wait and see."

Austin R. Curry, executive director, Elder Care Advocacy of Florida, Tampa

Truth beyond reason | Nov. 30, letter

Peril in hubris

A letter writer in Sunday's paper claims God and Scripture as the source for "universal, objective truth." If this is so, then why are there so many different religious denominations, each knowing their version of the truth is the universal, objective one? Surely a "universal" truth would not need so many interpretations.

More disturbing is the assertion that justice and human dignity can only come from God and the Bible. Societies long before the Bible was written had developed systems of justice and ideas of human dignity. They did not need a book glorifying genocide (Book of Joshua) to teach them about justice. Nor did they need the story of a parent willing to murder his own child (Abraham and Isaac) to understand human dignity. Justice and human dignity are human ideas, not divine ones.

The peril our country faces is the hubris in thinking we are God's special people. History is filled with examples of societies where people came to believe they were "chosen people." Their arrogance in this belief inevitably led to the collapse of their society. Will our country follow this path as well?

Lee Kasner, Tampa

Truth beyond reason | Nov. 30, letter

So many to choose from

The letter writer states that "universal objective truth" has been revealed to us by only the "true God." Oh dear! There are so many "true gods." Which one is his? Allah, Jehova, the three-headed Christian deity, or Babalu?

I admit we have an "uncaused cause," but I don't think anyone knows a thing about "him," "her" or "it."

Al Younghaus, Belleair Bluffs

Truth beyond reason | Nov. 30, letter

Bible not the basis of laws

Though one could write pages refuting the letter extolling the "objective truth" of "genuine belief" (essentially a contradiction), I will answer just his last sentences. The historical fact is that the United States was not founded upon biblical principles per se. The young country's laws were based on English common law and emerging ideas of freedom. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and our third president, said in a letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper in 1814: "… in answer to (his) question why the Ten Commandments should not now be a part of the common law of England we may say they are not because they never were …"

I encourage each person's right to express ideas, forms of worship, and conscientious behavior in homes, churches, or interactions with the public. But I resist installing specific religious ordinances or sects into our laws. Keep our American laws based on the good of all in the country and allow each citizen to practice his or her own religion without harm or coercion to our neighbors.

Nan Owens, Seffner

Tasered lawyer made point | Dec. 4, story

Update the rules

I want to make two comments:

1. The rejection of the man's offer to gradually replace his windows is pretty awful. Particularly since he has had brain surgery!

2. Actually, it seems time for the city to look into approving alternative, cheaper, and better materials that are attractive for historical buildings. Even Colonial Williamsburg (which, admittedly is a recreation venue) used alternative roofing materials, because colonial materials were not fire-safe.

The new windows are attractive and much better. People live in their homes, and it is reasonable for them to use the better materials.

Karla Grant, Tampa

Higher-ed scorecard stings | Dec. 3, story

Failure on affordability

Thanks to this Times' article, the resident parents of prospective students looking for advanced education now know their state colleges got an F for affordability in an evaluation of U.S. colleges from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

It is no revelation for anyone on top of this state's disregard for affordability that those who have been touting tuition increases have no concern for the affordability of tax-funded colleges for the families that need financial aid the most.

It would be nice to read an editorial in the Times acknowledging they may have been misinformed by those who continue to disregard the reality that increasing resident student tuition is wrong.

Russell Lee Johnson, St. Petersburg

Graduation rates in Florida set records Nov. 20, story

A job well done

As a student of the Florida school system, I would like to congratulate and thank all the dedicated teachers and administrators for working so hard to improve education in Florida. The percentage of Florida graduates has risen to 75 percent. That is an outstanding increase from last year. With the cost of college tuition rising, this improvement to our school system could help many students secure scholarships to attend college and have a brighter future.

My hat's off to all the educators in Florida. Let's all (students, parents, teachers, administrators) keep up the good work.

Nichole Lewis, Odessa

Helping hands ease hard times 12/05/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 7, 2008 9:46am]
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