Is there something about this time of year that makes stories featuring children more poignant? Or is it just that as we get closer to the holidays, we naturally hear more about the plight of children who have to make do with less in a can't-get-enough world?
I have to confess that this has been something that has puzzled me for years. The first seasonal column I wrote for my high school newspaper, The Prophet (we were nothing if not overconfident), contrasted the disparity between stories of desperate children wedged between the flash and glam ads for Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue in the pages of The New York Times. It has been a theme of mine since.
So many children are always short on shoes, clothes, food and books for school. Why do we respond more in December than July? People who work with at-risk children will tell you they are grateful for the help whenever it comes, but if they can, they stockpile to get through the lean months.
Some people take a longer view in their giving, because what they are trying to do doesn't show up on many telethons or holiday request mailers.
Margie – “Flash” to her friends – Farrelly lives in San Marcos and, like a lot of North County folks, spends a good part of her week on state Route 78. It's work that keeps her on the road, but it's a labor of love, not a paycheck, that keeps her going. Farrelly is a longtime member of the North County Coalition for Peace and Justice and, for just under two years, a member of the congregation of Carlsbad's Pilgrim United Church of Christ.
When Chuck Lowery of the coalition got the group involved in a burgeoning national organization called No More Victims, Farrelly was happy to become the local point person. No More Victims brings Iraqi children wounded in the war to the United States for medical treatment.
The coalition “liked the idea that this was something concrete we could do that would have some measurable results,” Farrelly said. “I just decided it would be a wonderful idea, and my church is very involved in outreach and they were more than happy to get involved and help out, and so that's how it started.”
No More Victims helps obtain the medical records and paperwork involved in getting a child and a family member cleared to come to the United States. Volunteers raise the money, and medical personnel have provided the care at little or no cost.
In Boston, a hospital is paying half of the cost of reconstructive surgery for a child. A group of Shriners in South Carolina is paying for knee replacement surgery, and volunteers in Orange County helped a 3-year-old get needed eye surgery.
“So far, we've had good success,” Farrelly said. “We've raised $6,022, and we had a forum at the church. We didn't have a large number of people, but we did have the iman from the Islamic Center of San Diego, and he said his community would be more than happy to help us get doctors and nurses, and the community would even be able to house this child and the family, so that got us quite excited.”
For those who may be thinking – and you know who you are – “sounds good, but what about kids in need right here in San Diego,” Farrelly said helping North County organizations also is a big part of the church's mission.
It includes working with North County Interfaith, the Escondido-based nonprofit group that provides food, clothing and shelter for thousands of residents each year, as well as health and dental screenings for the uninsured, and active support of weekly nutrition programs.
“I've heard that, 'Why do you do that, those are Iraqis,' as if they're not human beings,” Farrelly said. “I would say, though, that this is one avenue, one place where we see a wrong that needs to be righted.”
Maybe, too, the time has come. Standing on street corners, holding signs gets one's message across. But for a lot of people who have not supported the war for a long time, the idea of doing something that has positive results feels like a breath of fresh air, and sends a message of a different sort.
“That's my main thing,” Farrelly said. “We want to let them know that Americans care and we want to help them, and we don't want them to think that everyone is militaristic.”
It is the season of giving, that is true, a season when children in need are on our minds more than ever. But this is one project that will continue to change children's lives long after the holidays are over.