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Jack Knox: We pay taxes, do we still have to look out for one another?

The face of need doesn’t always match our preconceptions.
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Times Colonist Christmas Fund sends money to a variety of charities, including the Salvation Army, Mustard Seed Street Church, Our Place, Victoria Women's Transition House, Nourish Cowichan and 1 UP Victoria Single Parent Resource Centre.

I used to share an office with Jody Paterson.

We would sometimes disagree about things, but I discovered — to my discomfort — that when we did I would usually come around to her way of thinking eventually. She was right and I was wr… wro…. (sorry, just can’t get that word out).

One of the things Jody would talk about was the way we, as a society, had abandoned our responsibility to look out for one another. It’s not that we were uncaring, but that instead of being neighbours who helped neighbours, we had become people who assumed it was up to politicians and bureaucrats to haul people out of the ditch when they went off the road. ­“Somebody should do ­something about that,” we would say, piously, then sidestep whatever troubled soul we found in our path. That’s why we pay taxes, right?

That came to mind a ­couple of weeks ago when Les Leyne wrote about last summer’s deadly heat bomb and the grim revelation that 96 per cent of those who died did so at home.

“That means they died ­surrounded by neighbours,” Les wrote. Did you check on anyone? I didn’t.

Of course, it’s not always easy to tell who needs checking. The face of need doesn’t always match our preconceptions.

When I dropped by the food bank in Mill Bay last December, the first person I saw was a nice-looking young woman, head down, ­awkwardly shifting from foot to foot, her body language saying she really, really didn’t want to be there as she paused at the front door. Hers wasn’t the face I expected, but food bank ­volunteers said it was ­actually fairly common. They had seen a surge in service-industry ­workers left unemployed by COVID. We can assume the young woman regained her feet as jobs came back, but at that time she needed help.

I was at the food bank that day to drop off a cheque from the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, which collects money from readers and distributes the donations to people in need.

Usually, almost all the money is funnelled through the ­Salvation Army and the Mustard Seed Street Church, but last ­Christmas readers’ ­contributions were so generous — triple the amount raised in any other year! — that it became possible to issue grants to organizations, mostly food banks, that hadn’t received them before.

That was manna from heaven for ­outfits like the CMS (it stands for ­Cobble Hill-Malahat-­Shawnigan Lake) Food Bank, whose ­volunteers acted as though I was giving them my own money, not yours. (If it makes you feel any better, I blushed winningly on your behalf.)

Why did donors step up as they did last year? It was the pandemic, obviously, and the realization that in a time of ­crisis we as neighbours were going to have to help each other.

It’s similar to what Jody found when working in Central America, where so many live so close to the edge, without a net, that there’s a collective will to have one another’s backs. When she was in cars that broke down, strangers would instantly stop to help. It’s basic Golden Rule stuff. Do unto others, and all that.

Anyway, it’s time for this year’s Christmas Fund appeal. We all have our own causes and our own capacity to ­support them, so if you are not in a ­position to give, that’s fine — but if you are able to do so, that would be right neighbourly.

HOW TO DONATE

You can donate by going to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund fundraising page at canadahelps.org/en/dn/14772. The site is open 24 hours a day and provides an immediate tax receipt.

Or mail a cheque to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 201-655 Tyee Rd., Victoria, B.C. V9A 6X5.

You can also use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.