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February 11, 2010

Charity begins at home

"The world" hIce_Storm_CRST_SDCFas responded quickly and generously to the earthquake devastation in Haiti.  It feels good to be generous, to respond to human suffering, even if all we do is click a button to donate $20 to the American Red Cross. But what about the the suffering right here at home, in the United States? 

I'm not talking about the ongoing poverty in Appalachia or the relentless misery of our urban hell-holes -- you know, the kind of situation that often elicits "the poor will be with us always." I'm not talking about the 1.5 million children in this country who are homeless or the half million women who are victims of domestic violence every year -- you know, the kind of situation that stirs public debate on whether the government should spend any money to offer shelter or medical care. 

I'm talking about the current emergency in South Dakota. Yes, the emergency in South Dakota. You haven't heard about it? It's been headline news for two weeks -- oh, wait. It hasn't.

A major ice storm hit the Northern Plains states the weekend of January 22 -- more than two weeks ago. More than 3,000 utility poles were knocked over, and since then more than 15,000 people living on and around the Cheyenne River Reservation have been without electricity, water, heat, and gasoline.  The temperatures have been below zero, with fierce wind. The situation is desperate.

Students at the University of South Dakota have been collecting shoes to send to the area -- shoes! In the "richest country in the world" people living in the one of the harshest climates need shoes.  The South Dakota Community Foundation is accepting donations to to people in greatest need.

It's easy to give money to disaster victims in a foreign country (like Haiti) or in a beautiful city (like New Orleans).  That makes us feel good. It's easy to ask broader questions about the history of corruption that got Haiti into such dire socioeconomic straits. It's easy to cluck our tongues at the lack of Haitian infrastructure. It's even easy to talk about the questionable wisdom of building a city below sea level. It's easy to read stories about the big snowstorms shutting down Washington, DC, as long as the photographs are of children making snowmen, 20-somethings organizing snowball fights, and a few thousand inconvenienced travelers. That's entertaining.

But nobody wants to ask about the history of the people of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. Nobody wants to ask why their infrastructure is allowed to crumble. Those questions don't make us feel good, and the answers aren't entertaining. The discomfort hits too close to home, because it IS here at home: The discomfort is right in our own back yard. Did you donate to a Haitian relief fund? Did you write a check or click a button? Can you do it again? Can you reach out to your neighbor one more time? An original post for 50-Something Moms by Alicia, who also blogs at Forever Changed.

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