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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

Making it a gift not another handout

Sunday, December 11, 2005

With Christmas just two weeks away, the phones have been ringing constantly from area residents in need of assistance this holiday season. The long-

running Community Christmas Campaign, sponsored by the Standard Democrat, ended (for all practical purposes) last year. We said last year and we'll repeat again why we reluctantly ended this 25-year tradition.

Our goal with the Christmas Campaign was always to help provide toys for children and a food basket for families in need. We assumed naively that the assistance would be temporary for those who found themselves in tough circumstances for the holidays. Our assumptions were clearly wrong.

What actually happened over the years was this. Virtually the same families applied for and more often than not, received assistance year after year. Their chronic need was probably genuine and, for the most part, we didn't question why they remained in the same shape year in and year out.

But by helping the needs of the same families, we also were unable to handle the needs of others who found themselves in similar circumstances. And after a period of time, we began to understand that perhaps we had become part of the problem and not part of the solution. So reluctantly, we ended the program. Then we learned that other similar programs conducted by groups and service organizations here had also been discontinued for the very same reason.

The lessons we learned prompted a number of questions. Are some families doomed generation after generation to remain in poverty because they lack something that will lift them up the economic ladder? How much of that poverty stems from poor choices and how much stems from a host of other issues? And finally, and most important of all, what as a business or a community can we do to help elevate that population economically short of a handout? I'm not sure we're any closer to the answers today than we were when we first began this program in 1979.

You can argue that we lack the "quality" jobs to help lift this population out of poverty. But you can't argue that there are no jobs available. You can also argue that the wide array of government assistance available is in many ways a barrier to someone taking an entry level job. Some would actually lose economically from working as opposed to accepting the government assistance available. That is an imbalance of our own creation and yet, I see little hope of changing that policy. Quite frankly, it's probably too late.

Residents of this community have a long tradition of helping one another. The often-criticized "affluent" population opens their pockets and helps more than you will ever know. But at some point, even that generosity is tested when the recipients remain the same year after year.

I do know from personal experience having worked in this campaign from the beginning that far too many people make poor choices in their lives that virtually doom them to a life of poverty. That's not being judgmental, that's being factual. Granted, you can throw in a lack of education, single parenting, limited job skills and dozens of other issues. But poor choices, I promise you, will top the list of reasons for this generational poverty in our region.

We will privately do our best this year to help some families in need. We'll try to provide toys for youngsters and food for families. But we'll find those families by asking some tough questions. And we'll be assured that our limited resources are reaching those truly in need this year.

We've reluctantly learned that we can't solve all of the problems of the world during the holiday season. So we'll take the most appropriate approach and help those who are trying to help themselves.

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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen