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Newspaper offers readers a chance to help the needy

April 07, 2001

Newspaper offers readers a chance to help the needy



An editor I once worked for lamented in an annual Christmas appeal to readers that the spirit of giving should not be limited to the gift-giving season. Need, he liked to say, knows no season.

The need he referred to was a community's need. It was the need of its citizens for decent food and shelter and clothing, for medical assistance and safe haven from abusers.

It's fine that people donate their canned goods to help stock the local food bank in December, he editorialized. But what about when the pantry shelves become depleted in July?

I can't say that editor's tweaking of the public conscience stayed with readers beyond their charitable inclinations of the moment. But it serves as a recurring reminder to me of the community newspaper's responsibility to advocate for the powerless and the poor.

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Of all the missions of a community newspaper like The Herald-Mail, few are more important than connecting readers with the need that exists among them. A community is not fully informed if it doesn't know about the plight of its downtrodden and the resources needed to elevate them.

The newspaper is a clearinghouse for information that can unite givers and receivers in the cause of a better quality of life.

And it is a shared cause.

When a community's social needs go unmet, it leads to broken families, deteriorating neighborhoods and more crime. Energy and resources needed to foster growth are diverted to solving problems created by neglect.

At best, such circumstances inhibit a community's progress; at worst, they hasten its decline.

Washington County has its share of pressing social concerns.

High rates of teen pregnancy, child abuse and neglect and domestic assaults support the notion of an epidemic of family violence.

Health officials also cite a serious problem in the county with drug addiction and alcoholism - and their attendant self-esteem issues - as a likely root of many evils.

The good news is there are programs in the county to address these needs. The bad news is resources are strained.

That's where the newspaper comes in.

The Herald-Mail takes many approaches to informing its readers about where they can get help and where they can give it.

It regularly publishes contact information about help agencies and support groups.

It reports on trends in needs, and efforts to answer those needs.

It publicizes and promotes the annual fund drives of organizations like the Salvation Army, the United Way and many others, and the causes they support.

It tells readers about the people behind the programs, from administrators to volunteers, whose pride in their efforts is tempered by knowing the need will always be greater than their capacity to meet it.

And it tells the stories of personal hardships that can be heartbreaking or inspiring, in the best outcomes giving cause for optimism along with cheer.

If you are moved by these stories to contribute in some way, don't bother consulting your calendar. Giving is always in season.

Dick Fleming is weekend editor at The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131 ext. 2329 or by e-mail at dickf@herald-mail.com.

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