Volunteers are in the community

This Thanksgiving, many in our country are facing unemployment and home foreclosures. We are wondering what our nation’s new president will do to stop the economic slide and lead our nation to prosperity.

Political

Columnist

This Thanksgiving, many in our country are facing unemployment and home foreclosures. We are wondering what our nation’s new president will do to stop the economic slide and lead our nation to prosperity.

Americans are a resilient, innovative and generous people. When a tsunami hit the Indian Ocean nations, who was there first to rescue and feed those devastated by the disaster? Our military and volunteers. Watching those Navy helicopters swoop in with food, medicine and drinking water for millions of victims made us all proud to be Americans. President Bush immediately pledged hundreds of millions in aid and dispatched his father and former President Clinton to raise money from foreign governments and our own people.

But what about at home? Are we as generous? I believe we are.

Consider what Bill Kyle and Bill O’Connor have done for hungry children.

Bill and Dolores Kyle own Superior Insurance in Auburn. In early November, Bill was honored as the city’s distinguished citizen by the community’s food bank. Six hundred miles away and 40 years earlier, Bill O’Connor was the principal of Kennedy Elementary School in Butte, Mont. where my mom was a secretary and my aunt was a learning aide.

Both Bills saw hungry gradeschool children, and rather than wait for government help, they organized immediate assistance on their own.

Kyle read about a “backpack program” in Tarrant County, Texas. The school district discovered that low-income children often went hungry on weekends when the schools were not there to provide free or reduced-cost lunches. So school leaders and community volunteers organized businesses to donate backpacks and food. Each Friday the backpacks were filled with nutritious food for children to eat over the weekend.

Bill Kyle saw the same need and worked through the Food Bank to establish the back pack program in Auburn. He got the buy-in of the schools, Costco donated the back packs, and Fred Meyer provided funds to help purchase pure natural fruit juices. The rest is history. Today, students at Auburn Mountainview High School load 95 backpacks each weekend for hungry kids.

In Butte, Bill O’Connor watched kids coming to school hungry, without warm clothes. Often they had no breakfast to tide them over to lunchtime when the government’s free and reduced lunches were served. They collected and distributed winter jackets and sweaters, but feeding hungry children was another matter.

One cold fall day in the 1960s, O’Connor gave my mom $20 and told her to buy enough cereal and milk for a week. It wasn’t enough, so my mom made up the difference. They knew that if hungry kids knew they would have a small breakfast, they would come to school on time.

O’Connor would say, “I bribed them with some Wheaties. Kids can’t learn when their stomachs are empty, and without an education, these kids don’t have a chance.”

The program snowballed beyond what O’Connor and my mom could handle so some of the teachers pitched in some money, as did the PTA. My aunt volunteered to come to school a little early each day to help serve the kids and organize the cleanup.

There are millions of leaders like Bill Kyle and Bill O’Connor in our great country. There are also lots of people like my mom, my aunt and Dolores Kyle who pitch in to help make those programs work. They see a need, take the initiative and help people. They didn’t just say, “Well, that’s the government’s problem,” or “Let the churches or Salvation Army take care of it.”

Often their good deeds go unnoticed, except by those who benefit from them. So when the Auburn Food Bank gives Bill Kyle its “Distinguished Citizen Award,” it not only honors Bill’s work, it recognizes the work of millions of American volunteers.

This Thanksgiving, pause to give thanks for people like Bill Kyle and Bill O’Connor. Tell them “thank you” and then look around to see if there are people you can help as winter sets in and the economy struggles. It’s the American way!

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