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Time to show our compassion

By Staff | Aug 28, 2009

The Walmart, Jamestown. Best Buy, Fargo. H & R Block, Linton. Rough Riders Kiwanis, Dickinson. LRSC Business Club, Devils Lake. St. Alexius Units, Bismarck. The Odyssey Horizon Team, Bismarck. Dream Girls USA, Fargo. Jamestown College Students of Service. Mystic Mermaids’ Red Hats, Bismarck.

Add a few high school Key Clubs, several senior centers, some 4-H Clubs and Scout units, a couple of child care centers and over 200 Christian churches and schools of all denominations and you have a profile of the compassionate folks around North Dakota who packed 15,232 Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes last year. Almost all of them will be back for this fall’s campaign.

Operation Christmas Child is an annual drive to pack shoe boxes with toys, school supplies, candy, toiletries and anything else that kids would love. These shoe boxes are then shipped through Samaritan’s Purse to 90 different countries for orphans and needy children.

Last year, North Dakota shoe boxes went from Minneapolis to Abkhazia, Belize, Cameroon, Kenya, Mauritius, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, St. Vincent and Trinidad. (Frankly, I didn’t know that folks had some of these countries.)

Operation Christmas Child faces a special problem this year. It’s a problem dogging all charitable efforts. With the downturn in the national economy, thousands of folks who packed shoe boxes or gave to charities in other states have lost their jobs. They won’t be able to pack shoe boxes or donate to charities this year, leaving the possibility that many children will be passed over.

Since North Dakota has enjoyed a stable economy during the current economic crisis, we are best able to offset these losses by doing a bigger and better job in 2009, not only for the shoe box program, but also for food pantries at home and the charitable organizations working overseas. Food pantries are short all over the country; international food organizations have been cutting staff. Our compassion should be challenged by these needs.

One speaker at a recent “tea party” told the crowd that churches should be feeding the poor. He was right. Because of the failure of churches, governments at all levels have been forced to move into charitable operations. But this should be no cause for alarm. There are enough poor to go around, and churches and communities can take up the challenge any time they wish. The fabulous region-wide food drive to fill the FargoDome could be emulated by more communities and churches in these difficult times. We can do more than a can of beans. They did in Fargo.

We have a great opportunity to demonstrate our compassion in these challenging days. According to sales tax collections, North Dakotans have money to spend. So let’s pack another shoe box, start a food drive, or donate a little more to charitable organizations. We could do all of them without disrupting our lifestyles.

Omdahl is a UND professor emeritus in political science and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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