Sunday, December 4, 2011

Finding joy in the season

I have survived another term as "Princess" of the Portsmouth Holiday Parade with a minimum of problems and a maximum of gratitude that my desire to add a food drive benefiting three local food pantries yielded approximately 5,000 pounds of non-perishable goods for their shelves.

Students from the local high school volunteered to push grocery carts lent by Hannaford along the 1.5-mile parade route to collect the food and transfer it into trucks in the parade and along the roadway on a night that was mild for our December and also magical because it was the largest illuminated parade I've coordinated to date. The more than 1,000 people IN the parade also contributed food in large numbers.

There was great joy in knowing so many people recognized this great need in our community and responded. One pantry has seen a 78% jump in clientele from last year. Not only are the homeless and unemployed seeking assistance, but also the underemployed and seniors whose budgets are stretched beyond their limits. Times are tough everywhere.

I urge you to consider helping your local food pantry help others. You might be surprised to know your donations may help your pocketbook, as well. In NH, for example, towns are required by law to provide assistance to the poor. If non-profit pantries supported by food donations from generous citizens and businesses are available, local Welfare Departments refer clients to them. This often reduces the amount the town must raise in local property taxes to pay for feeding the impoverished. Your donations help everyone.

More joy
I also cannot adequately express the joy and hope I felt on Thanksgiving day as I watched my brother slowly walk up the driveway just 2 ½ months after being paralyzed from the chest down in a horrific tragedy that killed his wife, my beloved sister-in-law.

Although we continue to grieve the loss of Jennifer, and the first holiday without her was as difficult as you might expect, we were able to celebrate how much progress Mike has made from his compression chord injury.

His gait remains somewhat unsteady and he would be unable to use his hands to break a fall, but he can walk and climb some stairs! He no longer has to wear a neck collar and he can feed himself and perform many other tasks again, thanks to hours of physical and occupational therapy. And he is back at work. He cannot drive or be alone in case he falls, but he has advanced more quickly and much further than we could have dreamed after the accident.

To everyone's great delight, Mike continued his tradition of organizing a hike up a 4,000-foot mountain the day after Thanksgiving. Although he could not make the climb, he accompanied the group to breakfast and to the base of the mountain, where he impatiently awaited their descent through snowy terrain. (This is a photo from a pre-accident hike.)

When I walked into the after-party slideshow held in the large room that has become his bedroom while he recuperates, he and his children were surrounded by about 40 friends and family.

Next to Mike was someone I did not know but I instantly recognized his name as the man who first came upon my severely injured brother and sister-in-law, stayed with them until medical help arrived and used my brother's cell phone to alert me and other members of the family to the terrible accident. He also took custody of their gear and later visited Mike in the hospital.

After only a brief conversation, it was clear this man and my brother shared in common even before their random encounter. Now they also share an undeniably unique bond that I hope will provide both of them -- and our family -- much joy and comfort in the years to come.

And as this holiday season begins, I wish you and yours great joy and comfort, as well.