Yesterday, Scott Pelley from CBS’ 60 Minutes program presented a follow up segment to the eye-opening “Hard Times Generation” piece that aired eight months ago. Both stories detailed the plight of homeless families with children. It is telling that when the producers of 60 Minutes selected a community to profile such families, they didn’t choose an inner city setting, or Appalachia, or some rural community out West. Instead, they chose Central Florida.
Why? Because of all the homeless families in America today, fully one-third exist in Florida. Regular people, accustomed to earning a wage and making their own way in life, who have found themselves with few options for sustainability during the Great Recession.
As someone who works in human services every day, I recall being a little puzzled by the widespread shock and dismay in the community following the airing of the first story. After all, the organization I work for has tried hard for many years to tell the story of our neighbors in need. It’s a rather stark portrait of need that we strive to paint day in and day out, in an attempt to enlighten those who haven’t considered the tragic and preventable issue of hunger in our community.
I wondered what it might have been about the 60 Minutes story that succeeded so wildly in this regard, in comparison to our own efforts? I think I know. It was the realization by many that the images we tend to carry in our minds about who might be hungry in our area might be incorrect. Instead of conjuring the image of the bedraggled man holding a sign at the end of the off ramp, viewers instead saw young faces.
People trying to get by as best they could in the most trying situations of their lifetimes, and still managing to go to school, study, and eke out an existence. Parents desperate to find the money for another week at the cheap motel, so that living in the car wouldn’t become the next rung down on their ladder. Viewers didn’t see lazy loafers and drug addicts at all; they saw people that actually appeared to look like … them.
The follow up story was not much more pleasant than the original segment earlier this year. Families still struggling in large numbers, and many actually living in vehicles as they search for a way out of the hardship they endure every day. Clearly, a dark cloud of poverty and need still hangs over our community, and so many others across the nation. These stories helped to illustrate that desperation in ways that allowed caring people to relate to it—some for the first time.
It occurs to me that there are actually a few silver linings in the dark cloud that the 60 Minutes stories brought to light. First, it dramatically reinforces something that I’ve known for a long time; that we live in a very generous and caring community. After the first story aired, millions of dollars appeared seemingly out of nowhere to help the causes engaged in providing services. That’s a huge silver lining. Second, the stories showed us all that the American spirit and determination is alive and well, even among those who are facing incredibly long odds about their future.
As one young girl living in her family’s truck put it, almost cheerfully, “It’s life…You do what you have to do, right?” Right.
And thankfully, for many of us who still find ourselves in a position to be able to help, what we ‘have to do’ includes finding a way to get involved and make a difference. For that is the only way that communities, and nations, get through such difficult times. By looking after one another.
As our Holiday season approaches, I urge all of us to redouble our personal efforts to lend a hand. Choose a cause that matters to you, and write a check.
Volunteer some time. Make a difference. Change a life. Feed some hope.
60 Minutes story:
Greg Higgerson, CFRE