Thursday, November 18, 2010
First United Methodist Church, along with friends from local Catholic and Episcopal congregations, will pump out about 60,000 meals this year from a small kitchen, feeding the homeless, working poor, children, the elderly and others who come to the downtown Salinas church for a free lunch five days a week.
Asked to describe the budget for the program, FUMC pastor Jim Luther laughs ruefully.
“We’re broke,” he says. “We put everything we have into the program. We’re just trying to help the next person through the door.”
For some of us, a single dollar has significantly less meaning than for others. It’s money for a pack of gum, or for a cheap cup of convenience-store coffee. But aggregate those dollars for a community-based nonprofit, and the significance quickly adds up.
It can mean everything, like keeping the doors open.
At FUMC, which also runs a de facto day shelter for homeless people trying to stay away from drugs and alcohol, a dollar pays for another day of long-distance phone service so the dispossessed can let families or friends know they’re still alive. It also buys five pounds of food at the Food Bank for Monterey County, where Luther shops three days a week so his congregants can cook the daily meal.
At the Natividad Medical Foundation, $7 was enough to buy a month’s worth of anti-seizure medication for a young man who would have died without it.
The foundation also administers The Onyx Fund for Women, which enables medically necessary gynecologic surgery. Such surgery, says foundation president and CEO Linda Ford, can give a woman suffering from fibroid tumors or other conditions a new lease on life.
“I’ve never seen a dollar used with such impact,” Ford says. “A lot of these women will ask themselves, ‘Do I feed my family, pay the rent or get my medical care?’ Often the medical care comes last.”
If animals, nature or the arts are more your thing, though, the Weekly has in this issue 69 other notable local nonprofits, all of which have some big ideas but all of which come from the same place: helping those in the community, whether two-legged, four-legged, artistically minded, environmentally minded or (in the case of Save the Whales) finned, make it through another day.
Carve a dollar or $10 or $100 from your budget in the next six weeks if you can, choose one of the nonprofits and make an impact on the community. The world’s a hard place, and like they say, charity begins at home.
A group of middle-school students in Salinas also is looking at a way to affect change and they’re doing it with pen and paper rather than dollars and cents. The group, students of Washington Middle School English teacher Maggie Power, is frustrated at the lack of local bookstores; they’re planning a march on City Hall a few days before Thanksgiving, during which they will attempt to deliver letters to Mayor Dennis Donohue demanding he open one.
Dennis, you’ve been warned. The eighth graders are coming for you, and they’re ticked.
For Power’s class, this is a great exercise on a number of levels. First, she’s teaching them to write persuasive letters. Second, she’s teaching them how to research a subject – a little bit of their inspiration came from the efforts of schoolchildren in Texas to try to keep the B. Dalton outlet open in the poor border town of Laredo – and although the Texas kids were unsuccessful, Power’s class has read up on those efforts. Power is also teaching her class they have the right to petition government for a redress of their grievances, so they’re getting a little First Amendment action in with their local petitioning.
There’s only one problem: if Donohue could make a bookstore magically appear within the city’s borders, he would have done it the day after he began his first term as mayor. Power’s class also is getting what may be its first lesson in the realities of retail economics: If the numbers for a specific area don’t make sense for the stores, they simply won’t open there.
Right now, the numbers don’t make sense. Chains such as Barnes & Noble (struggling to stay afloat as it is) or Borders take a hard look at the economics of a city or region: When they look at Salinas, they see a poverty rate that is too high and an education rate that is too low.
But if dedicated teachers like Power can help raise the education rates, then the poverty rates will drop – the ultimate in local impact. So to the eighth graders: Write your letters and march them down to City Hall. I suspect the mayor will read every one.
In the meantime, warm up your wallets and check out our Monterey County Gives! website at www.montereycountygives.com. It’s a good way to kick off the season of giving.