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Those darn welfare bums

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Ever since I can remember I have heard people complain about “welfare bums” sucking off the public teat rather than working for a living like decent folks.

I have heard the “welfare bums” blamed as the reason why our taxes are so high, the reason why crime is on the rise, the reason why our society has fallen into shambles.

Some will tell you, my friends, that those on public assistance are behind much of what is wrong with our otherwise pristine American way of life, and that’s why we need to stop funding assistance programs for the poor.

I have a difficult time understanding why some people hate the poor so much that they would call everyone who finds themselves at a low financial point in their lives “bums.” It must be nice to go your whole life never having to worry about where your next meal is going to come from or lose sleep because you have bills due and no way to pay them. It must be nice to be so lucky.

I wouldn’t know. I had lots of lean times as a college student and for quite a few years after college as I tried to make a living on my own in Rochester and then when I returned to Ogdensburg. Even though I have had a job consistently from the time I was old enough to get a work permit, I still had to occasionally make choices between paying for food and paying other bills.

And at those times, I knew I was still luckier than a lot of people. I was lucky enough to go to a good college on scholarship, so I had a good education and I was qualified for jobs that people without my level of education were not. Those jobs typically paid a little better. And I still thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t have children to feed.

That’s why the term “welfare bum” gets under my skin. The people who live in glass houses and like to throw that particular rock must be clueless about what real life is actually like.

I remember writing an article a few years ago about how about 20 percent of St. Lawrence County’s population was on some kind of public assistance. I haven’t checked the numbers lately, but I can’t imagine they have decreased any. We’re not exactly soaking in prosperity. Most of our jobs are minimum-wage jobs that, even bumped up to $8 an hour, still don’t come close to meeting a growing cost of living no matter how many hours you work per week.

We consistently rank in the top 10 poorest counties in the state, and it’s not because our people are shiftless layabouts who just want to collect a government check rather than work.

A lot of our citizens at one point or another will end up having to go to their local food pantry for help feeding themselves and their families. As much as it might not seem to be true, hunger is a real problem in this county. Anyone with a beating heart should be bothered knowing there are children in their neighborhood who will not have enough to eat today. Odds are their parents are not deadbeats. Rather, what they earn at the one or more jobs they work just isn’t enough to pay the bills.

As you sit down to dinner tonight, I want you to think about how lucky you are to have food on your plate. Then I want you to consider that there is a 4-year-old in your community who is at that moment crying because she is hungry and her parents can’t do anything about it. Then I want you to get out your check book and make a donation - even if it’s only $10 or $20 - to your community’s food pantry.

Food pantries at this time of year are under tremendous strain. The donations that were made in the holiday spirit of giving are now gone, but the number of people who need help hasn’t changed. The pantries need a steady flow of community donations to help folks make it through the winter.

The folks these pantries help are our neighbors. They aren’t bums. They are deserving of help from people like you, who happen to have ended up luckier than they are.

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