Oops! Martin Luther King Jr. Day just zipped by. It was Monday, in case you missed it. If you did miss it, that’s OK. Let me tell you why.
The slogan often used with MLK Day is, “A Day On, Not a Day Off.” The day is not for relaxing but for working on behalf of others in need.
I support special days that remind me to help others. In fact, we’ve just come through a holiday season chock-full of these opportunities. And many of you did your part.
You donated food to a hungry family for Thanksgiving.
You served up a Thanksgiving lunch at Sprunica Elementary School.
You gave a Christmas toy to the Salvation Army for distribution to a child in Brown County.
You get the idea: Special days and special efforts to meet human needs. It’s all good.
But here’s the other side of that coin: People are in need every day, not just during the holidays. And someone needs to help them every day, not just on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
One-day forays into charity ring hollow if we forget about the hungry and the homeless the rest of the year. If we are generous with our time and money only a few days each year, what we do is more about feeling virtuous than about meeting the chronic needs of others.
This is particularly important in a nation where many believe the responsibility to help others belongs more to individuals and private organizations than to the government. In some industrialized nations — New Zealand and Sweden are two examples — the social welfare of all citizens is viewed as a question of human rights, not charity. The social safety net is a responsibility of government, not the private sector.
That public social safety net is not as strong in the United States. We do have nationalized social programs — food stamps, Medicaid, Section 8 housing. But many people still go hungry, get sick without insurance or live in the streets.
And our current national sentiment seems to favor having government do less, not more. Shrinking state allocations for social services reflect the lack of political will for tax increases to address human needs.
Historically, our nation was built on the link between individualism and community. A strong community — good jobs, good schools, safe streets, strong families — created the conditions under which individuals could flourish. For many reasons, our links to those sheltering communities has weakened during the past 40 years.
Meanwhile, individualism has flourished, particularly in the economic sector. One of the results of our commitment to economic individualism is the largest gap in wealth between the rich and the poor in modern history. In the past 30 years, the top 1 percent of households doubled their share of the nation’s wealth.
The United States has recovered from the crash of 2008, but the benefits of the recovery have gone overwhelmingly to the wealthy. According to economist Emmanuel Saez, the top 1 percent captured 95 percent of the total income growth between 2009 and 2012.
Meanwhile, the percentage of people in poverty rose to 15 percent in 2011, the highest it has been in 52 years. Though that rate has begun to decline, more than 40 million people are still poor.
And some of those people are our neighbors. More than 41 percent of students in Brown County public schools qualify for free lunch based on low income, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
In short, many people are still in need every day.
So we need to be grateful for local people and organizations that work to meet those needs all year.
• The Salvation Army may organize special events around the holidays, but it is also working all year to assist people in Brown County.
• When Habitat for Humanity isn’t building a house for a working family, it is raising money for the next build.
• Mother’s Cupboard Community Kitchen serves free hot meals every day but Thanksgiving. Food pantries can also be found in Brown County.
• The Brown County YMCA provides a place for healthy exercise for families and children year-round, even when they cannot pay.
• You can find a Facebook page (Help Brown County People In Need) where anyone with a special need can request aid and individuals can respond when they can help. The group has 1,134 members.
• The Brown County Community Closet makes low-cost clothing and household items available. Several local church organizations offer free clothing.
These organizations are at work today, even though Martin Luther King Jr. Day has passed. The good deeds that flow from these groups and from individuals acting on their own can help to fill the needs that we see around us if we look, as well as some needs we cannot see.
We are fortunate in a small county surrounding a small town. I know many of my neighbors on Town Hill Road. We greet friends on the streets of Nashville.
In this small community, we can be sure that the money we give or the labor we donate will go to someone truly in need — perhaps someone we may even know, if only as a post on a Brown County Facebook page.
Responding to human needs in this peaceful valley will keep our community alive and make it stronger. Look for some ways that you can help this year. It will increase the chances that our neighbors will live well in Brown County.