One of my goals at The Mount Airy News is not only to report stories that hopefully are of interest to the community, but to take this to another level given our troubled economic times.
I’ll admit that after nearly 30 years in the journalism profession I am hardened to a certain degree — sometimes downright cynical and skeptical, as a matter of fact.
Yet I have remained sensitive about the plight of many fellow citizens who have found themselves in dire financial straits through no fault of their own. (Can you say NAFTA?) The extended degree of hardship witnessed in this community as a result of massive layoffs over the past decade is unprecedented.
I’m sure it will be many more years before the depth of the resulting human misery is calculated — the lost jobs and homes, the suicides and perhaps most importantly, the absence of hope in the lives of many.
If you’ve ever been hungry or without a job, or know someone who has, you can’t help but be sympathetic about what’s happening. Many have given up the search and are no longer even counted in the unemployment statistics. I guess the only thing worse than a person being considered just a number is to not even have THIS impersonal status anymore.
Recognizing the despair out there, I’ve tried to do my best to dispense information to the community about programs that could ease at least some of the pain. This includes publicizing food drives and similar events, charitable efforts by The Salvation Army and other organizations and economic-development announcements offering a promise of employment.
This also has meant making sure people know about the surplus food distributions held in Mount Airy and Elkin every three months.
The resulting turnout has been amazing for these events conducted at the city’s giveaway site at Veterans Memorial Park, where people have come to receive surplus commodities issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The times I have been there, nearly every inch of ground at the park has been occupied by cars with folks waiting to receive bags of food.
Many have arrived well in advance of the 9 a.m. start time and sat in the cold for hours just to get something to eat. While I said in another column recently that I would never wait for a meal at a restaurant or camp out for a grand opening of one, the exception to that policy would be if I was hungry enough not to care about any inconvenience.
And when I see hundreds of people showing up for food, I know they must be there because the need is critical.
Of course, there are those who are always trying to get something for nothing or milk the system — the 47 percent, as Mitt Romney might call them. But this doesn’t change the fact there are people truly deserving of help.
I was surprised to see someone at one of the surplus food distributions — surprised because this individual whom I have known for nearly 40 years has always been hardworking and self-supporting.
Well, this person got laid off from a local textile plant after working there for many years as a fixer. Then she tried to do what everyone recommended and become re-trained for another profession — along the way getting bilked out of Trade Act assistance through a deadline snafu.
After that person spent two years earning a teaching degree, with an associate degree having been received years before, she emerged from college only to encounter another brick wall of no classroom jobs being available. Here again, the layoff victim did everything she could to help herself, but was there in the food-distribution line all the same.
Unfortunately, I won’t be writing about these surplus giveaways any longer, but the real tragedy is that the food will not be available to those in need because of a decision this week to end the distributions.
Now I really don’t understand fully the circumstances behind this regrettable move. I’ve read something about costs of the program rising, food supplies being cut, deadlines needing to be met, etc., etc. All I know is, the distribution program was eliminated with no advance notice to the public.
Supposedly, the needy can still receive items through area food banks, but there are many questions about how this will occur. With various banks out there, including in Winston-Salem, it is unclear how much of those commodities actually will find their way to our local folks compared to the present situation. Up to this point, they know that by visiting Veterans Memorial Park on a certain day, they have been assured of getting groceries to help them survive a little longer.
There’s been a lot of finger-pointing and concerns about whether the needy will be served with this change, and I don’t want to get into all that now.
It just seems to me that when it comes to actions of the government in general, there’s always no hesitation to bail out big corporations or help the wealthy with tax breaks and other advantages to the tune of billions of dollars.
Conversely, little is ever done for those at the other end of the spectrum because those same government officials who are so anxious to aid the advantaged suddenly start poor-mouthing their ability to support programs such as the food giveaway.
In my opinion, this latest move might not only take food from the mouths of the poor, but deliver another kick in the teeth as well.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or email@example.com.