This is not unique to our community, to be sure, but the intensity of it may be. Hereabouts the impression that this is the season of gifting is strongly challenged by a feeling that it is equally or more a season of giving. And that continues unabated even during a period where economic difficulties have made needs soar and sufficient donations harder to assemble.
It is interesting, but probably goes unnoticed, how this duality in the seasonal spirit ebbs and flows and alternates to seize attention.
For example, the 24th annual Love Feast — the free Thanksgiving Day community meal sponsored by the Concerned Citizens of Rome and Floyd County, chaired by the Rev. Terrell Shields, drew 3,000 people. That’s remarkable and all the more so because all the volunteers, businesses, congregations, individuals involved simply show up to pull this off and seek no credit. The parallel to the two “loaves and fishes” miracles in the Bible is probably missed by many and while hardly to be put in the same class the Love Feast is a notable human accomplishment.
Then right after comes the “Black Friday” stampede to the store sales, a gifting frenzy on the heels of a giving avalanche.
TONIGHT, weather willing, the annual Christmas Parade will draw tens of thousands to Broad Street, most of them entire families, to reinforce the festive mixture of the season with its combination of religious, gifting and charitable elements. And then, on Friday, the annual Can-a-thon to replenish the local food banks will take place with local schools trying to set new records for giving.
There is so much going on in the way of trying to make this season pleasant not only for ourselves but for others that it becomes difficult to impossible to keep track of it all, even with the listings in our newspaper’s Community Calendar, the news and feature stories. Many of the names associated with the season have become so well-known as to speak for themselves: Toys for Tots, Red Kettle, Angel Express.
The grassroots nature of this, which says much about the folks living hereabouts, is striking. There really is no central oversight or direction for all these efforts nor attempt to identify “holes” that need to be filled. When a need becomes obvious, it somehow tends to be filled.
Thus it is a well-meant development to see a number of groups coming together in a joint effort to create a website, www.capcares.com (already up but not really running yet), to try to reduce duplication of services. While its immediate focus is on Christmas giving, the plans are to extend it to provide information and direction regarding other assistance services both in the public and private sectors. One supposes, in a sense, it would be an Internet version of the 211 telephone help line.
This effort already encompasses the Community Actions Partners, Good Neighbor Ministry, Rome ReSale, Toys for Tots, the Sheriff’s Santa program, the Department of Family and Children’s Services, Heroes Great and Small, the Commission on Children and Youth, Exchange Club Family Resource Center and others.
THE STATED aim is “an effort to curb duplication of services, make sure that one person doesn’t get too much while another family doesn’t get anything. It’s to try to stretch the resources of the community.”
This sort of improved focus is overdue as is an accessible database of both where and how those with varied needs can find assistance or advice. The real obstacle to its success is what also needs to be tackled and that is what has been dubbed the “digital divide.” Alas, those at whom such informational efforts are aimed are those least able and most unlikely to visit websites, which may surprise the “donor” part of the population for whom this tends not to be a problem.
According to the latest federal figures, in Georgia net usage is 63 percent (with 2.9 percent still on dialup). It climbs to 69 percent when including those who can access the Internet from work although not from home.
Those likely most in need of the charitable assistance that so abounds tend to be precisely those without such access, largely due to the cost of both computers and broadband service. For example, the U.S. Department of Commerce reports that only 4 out of every 10 households with annual household incomes below $25,000 have home Internet service. Minorities are especially on the wrong side of the “divide” with just over half of African-American households (55 percent) and Hispanic households (57 percent) having Internet access.
Which brings up an important point in a community as serious about helping those less fortunate as Greater Rome has proven to be. Have and have-not, gifting and giving depend on knowing/not knowing.
WHEN 3,000 show up for the Love Feast it is likely not because they learned about it from the Internet, or even this newspaper. For some, after 24 years of the event taking place at the Rome Civic Center, it is probably a known expectation. For others attendance was probably the result of the oldest communication method, word-of-mouth.
This is something all those with charitable/ giving instincts should ponder as they seek to spread the word of what they do and offer.
The Internet as a gateway to a world of information involves, when it comes to helping others, far more than just being able to direct them toward assistance and avoiding duplicated efforts. It also involves giving access to learning/education, to job seeking and applications and so forth. That is why the banks of computers in the Rome-Floyd public library tend to be filled at all times of the day. For many users that is their only access and the library is now closed two days of the week.
For good ideas such as a database to guide clients to assistance and avoid duplication to be meaningful and useful for many or even most at whom they are aimed there has to be more universal access to the electronic information age and particularly so for those who might not otherwise be able to afford it. That does not mean handing all the needy free computers or tablets to use at wi-fi hotspots. It does mean the creation of more public-access terminals.
The comparatively new Goodwill Industries location in Etowah Crossing knows that with its computer-focused service center. Not all public or private enterprises are suitable locations for providing such access but many are.
IT IS A RATHER significant “hole” in this community’s extensive but somewhat haphazard assistance efforts that has not yet been plugged. In this season of gifting/giving it might even be thought of as providing a gift that keeps on giving.