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Jim Kenyon: Year-end odds and ends

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 12/21/2019 10:27:19 PM
Modified: 12/21/2019 10:35:15 PM

On a bone-chilling afternoon a few weeks ago, I set out on a short stroll from the type-and-gripe factory here on Interchange Drive in West Lebanon to the Starbucks on Route 12A.

I took a shortcut through a vacant lot, where an older man approached me. He said that he was just passing through the Upper Valley and at the moment, homeless. He planned to stay until he could come up with money to buy a bus ticket back to Florida.

Could I spare any change? he asked.

I fished some coins out of my coat pocket. Considering I was about to plunk down $5 for a coffee from a mega-corporation, it was the least I could do.

“Thank you,” he said.

Before we parted, I had one more question: Where did he get his winter coat? I noted the distinct label on the left sleeve of his parka.

He found it at the nearby Salvation Army thrift store, he said. The warmest jacket he’d ever owned, he beamed. I didn’t doubt it. Off the rack, Canada Goose parkas go for about $900.

The people who stand at West Lebanon’s 12A intersections and the Exit 20 ramp off Interstate 89 with cardboard signs are often met with skepticism and disdain. Are they really homeless and hungry? Or are they conning us to make a few bucks?

From time to time, readers suggest I look into whether 12A’s panhandlers are in legitimate need of help. I haven’t.

People’s stories are often not as cut and dried as we’d like them to be, and as far as investigative reporting goes, we have bigger matters to pursue. But I think back to when I was a reporter in Tampa, Fla., writing about the city’s panhandlers more than 20 years ago.

The same question was raised: How many of Tampa’s “street people” were actually down on their luck?

I talked with a minister who worked with the city’s homeless population. As individuals, we can decide to reach into our pockets or not. It’s our choice. His advice: Leave the judging on who is worthy of our compassion to a greater power.

A few other things on my mind this holiday season:

Like many others, I have a case of Trump fatigue. Just when I think the president can’t stoop any lower, he mocks the late Rep. John Dingell, of Michigan, in a campaign speech in Michigan, no less, by suggesting that the long-serving Democrat is currently in hell.

But it’s not just Trump. His associates are also determined to make sure Americans remain divided by race, religion, geography and the size of their paychecks.

A friend recently found herself — for reasons she’s not sure — getting emails from Trump’s reelection campaign, seeking contributions to the president’s “Official Impeachment Defense Fund.”

Here’s a sample of the president’s sales pitch:

“The Democrats have NO impeachment case and are demeaning our great Country at YOUR expense. But, nothing matters to them — they have gone absolutely insane.

“The DC Swamp wants impeachment. The Hollywood Elites want impeachment. The Fake News wants impeachment. The Deep State wants impeachment. They all HATE you, (first name inserted), and that’s why they want to steal your vote.

“It’s US against THEM. Make no mistake this is a war, and a war we must win to save the United States of America.”

And just think, only 318 days till the election

Proof — as if any more is needed — that town listservs have outlived their usefulness:

Last week, a call went out on the Norwich listserv for two sheep to round out the cast in the 58th annual Norwich Christmas Pageant.

A resident responded, “Go to an Evangelical church or a Trump rally, you’ll find plenty of sheep there.”

Another listserv contributor quickly wrote back to her “fellow Norwich residents.” She accused the previous post’s author of “spouting hate and ridicule of Christians without any protest from the moderators and 99.9% of the subscribers. I have to wonder, what if I spouted the same hate regarding transgender, homosexuals or unbelievers, would you give me the same rights that you give him.”

So much for people coming together during the holiday season.

I’ll end on a more uplifting note.

Earlier this month, members of Local 560 of the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU, for short) at Dartmouth College went Christmas shopping in West Lebanon.

They filled shopping carts at Kmart and Best Buy with kids’ bicycles, flat screen TVs, Kindle e-book readers and sleeping bags. They even threw in a few karaoke machines.

The union, which represents more than 500 of the college’s blue-collar workers, spent $4,700 on gifts that they then turned over to the Marine Toys for Tots program for needy kids in the Upper Valley.

In past years, union workers had made hefty year-end contributions to Dartmouth-connected nonprofit organizations. But this year, the union’s governing board decided that with an endowment of more than $5 billion, the college didn’t need its help.

“We wanted to help people, especially teenagers, who live in the Upper Valley,” said Susan Russell, Local 560’s secretary-treasurer who has worked in Dartmouth’s dining halls for 20 years.

Why Toys for Tots?

A union steward, who works as a painter at the college, passed along a story to Local 560 leaders about the difference the organization had made in his childhood.

“Toys for Tots had been there for him when he was growing up,” Russell said. “The way he talked about what the (nonprofit) had done for his family almost brought tears to my eyes.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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