December 6, 2008
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
'Ms. Marin, I am a reader of the paper and I have for a number of years watched you on television. . . . I am sorry to bother you but I am one of those people who -- true of the economy -- is about to find oneself homeless. In fact next Tuesday, I am going to be locked out of where I'm living. And with Type II Diabetes and neuropathy (a disorder of the nerves), I am not going to survive sleeping in my car. And I have nowhere to go, no relatives or friends. . . . I have called every agency and place I have been referred to or know of. No one has any funding or facilities. If you have any ideas, uh, places I might be able to call for some kind of help before Tuesday. Perhaps you could give me a call back. . . . My name is Jerry. Thank you."
Jerry called the Friday before Thanksgiving. I was already on my way out of town and didn't retrieve his message until the Tuesday after the holiday, a week after his expected eviction.
I've called the number he left a number of times but all I get is a recording.
"The party you are trying to reach is unavailable," says a disembodied female voice.
Jerry's voice, on the other hand, was as real as it gets. Reserved, halting in places, and clearly embarrassed to be calling someone he only knew from a byline or a television screen.
In the years I've worked in news, I've learned that there are more homebound people than we might ever guess, people like Jerry who are alone in the world. The only friends who come in the house arrive through a TV or a radio or a newspaper.
Many years ago when I was working at WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Tenn., I signed off a morning talk show that I was doing, telling viewers I was moving on to another gig.
An hour later, the receptionist frantically paged me to the lobby.
There stood a weathered looking woman with her clearly disabled son, an 18-year-old young boy who had great difficulty forming words. But, she told me, when I said "goodbye" that morning, she said her son responded to the television, trying to say "goodbye" back.
The mother, who lived in one of the poorest communities in the Appalachian mountains, gathered what little money she had and paid someone to drive an hour into Knoxville so her son could say goodbye in person, so moved was she that her mute boy had shown a motivation to speak.
Even when the economy was robust, there were the Jerrys and the struggling mountain mothers. And now?
Part of the good news is that even in bad times, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, people keep giving. In fact some groups, like the American Heart Association, report donations are up this year.
But here's an idea that Team Obama might consider -- a kind of community organizing principal for charity. The Obama campaign has already established itself as a world-class money-raiser, bringing in more than $750 million for the past election. Most of that money was raised via the Internet, over half a billion dollars.
And they are still beating the drum for donations to pay for the presidential transition and inauguration.
Imagine what one e-mail for charity could do.
Imagine what it could do for the Jerrys of this world.
Or the mother in Appalachia.
Monday is the 28th anniversary of the death of John Lennon. Imagine what could happen if they asked their community of contributors to chip in once more, using the words of one of Lennon's most touching songs:
"You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one."