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Pam Frampton: Something’s gotta give

Sign of the times.
Sign of the times.

 

Outside the bank’s ATM, an older man sits slumped on the sidewalk, crumpled and rumpled, with a grey pallor and clothing to match. Dishevelled and stubbled, he holds a cardboard sign in arthritic-looking hands. Its black-marker message: “Homeless, hungry. Please help. God bless.”

The empty coffee cup at his feet holds a few scattered coins.

At the entrance to the grocery store, a group of kids in sports jerseys, accompanied by adults, is collecting donations towards the travel costs of attending a tournament.

No, wait, that was last week. Or was it the week before? No, the week before was a barbecue fundraiser for something or other — hotdogs and hamburgers, red and yellow plastic squeeze containers of ketchup and mustard, cans of pop in a cooler.

This week it’s volunteers collecting money for cancer. Cashless, you say, “Catch you on the way out,” and silently remind yourself to get money back at the checkout.

At the checkout as you pay: “Would you like to make a $2 donation to…”

You pick up your groceries, passing the near-empty wooden bin where people have left a few cans of beans or pasta. In the centre aisle are pre-bagged $10 donation packages of food you can purchase for the food bank. Spaghetti, no-name jarred sauce, a box of juice, a tin of tuna.

You have to wonder sometimes if — even amidst all these generous hearts — there’s enough to go around to keep things going in this province.

At home, the odd landline phone call is, as often as not, from a charitable organization.

“Do you have any gently used clothes you’d like to place in one of our bins…”

“Would you like to spend $20 for a charity calendar? All proceeds go to…”

“Are you available to canvass door to door in your neighbourhood for the local branch of our national organization? You’d be collecting funds for vital health research…”

“Would you like to drop off baked goods or a craft at our fall fair? We’re raising money for the parish…”

At the office, they’re collecting non-perishable food items, selling 50/50 tickets. Someone’s child’s school is offering bags of root vegetables to raise money for a track meet. A school trip. A dance competition. To place your order, put your name on the sign-up sheet. Or chocolate almonds, $3 a box. All proceeds to…

Fill a bag with school supplies. Get your raffle tickets here. Shop for a family for Christmas. Shelter urgently needs donated pet supplies or money for emergency vet bills.

The poppy campaign leading up to Remembrance Day makes way for the Salvation Army kettles.

Each one a worthy cause. Each one with armies of volunteers who put more time and energy and caring into their community than any amount of money could buy; stretching nickels and dimes and trading in goodwill and generosity.

It’s hard enough in a two-income household to keep up with all the causes you’d like to support, particularly when there’s urgent need. And then there’s the guilt you feel if you pass someone by.

It’s much harder to be on the receiving end.

You have to wonder sometimes if — even amidst all these generous hearts — there’s enough to go around to keep things going in this province.

Small number of people spread over big landscape plus sluggish economy and aging population equals hard, hard times.

And when Muskrat Falls power comes on stream and electricity prices double and triple, the only people left who’ll be able to afford to pay will be the people who oversaw the project, those with lucrative contracts to work on it, and the legal counsel for the inquiry looking into it.

•••

Monday morning, your daily commute; a young man, reed-thin with tired eyes paces the median on the five-lane crosstown, nearly hurled into traffic by the merciless wind. When cars stop at the light, he weaves perilously between lanes, hoping someone will lower their window to hand him a toonie or a fiver. His sign has too many words to read while you’re driving, but you see “homeless” and “hungry.”

That’s enough, surely.

The back of the cardboard says “Smile.”

 

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

 

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