Brunswick County is called to take care of our own

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By Fran Salone-Pelletier, Religion Columnist

I am not an advocate of early morning meetings. I understand their necessity for those who are working or have heavy schedules, but I am simply less than functional in the early hours of the day.
So, it was with some degree of reluctance, if not mixed emotions, that I accepted an invitation for Hubby Dear and me to attend a breakfast event hosted by Brunswick Family Assistance.
H.D. asked his usual questions: “Why were we invited?” “What’s it all about, anyway?” “Who’s going to be there?”
I responded typically: ”Why don’t you wait and see? Let it be a surprise. Besides, I am not in charge, so how would I know the answers to your questions?”
Lest we sleep in, the alarm clock was set, clothes were laid out for quick dressing, and an early bedtime was designated, at least for one of us. Dawn was just spreading her rosy fingers across a still darkened sky when we left our driveway for the adventure. And adventure, it was.
We entered a room filled with folks who cheerily greeted us and each other. It was Brunswick. We were family. We were being assisted with a warmth and welcome only those who are familiar with service can offer.
Hubby’s questions were quickly dispelled as we learned this was an appreciation breakfast and an information session to provide us with an update on the operation of a marvelous outreach from those who have much to those whose little is painfully suffered.
A computerized PowerPoint, laden with facts, figures, explanations and invitations, showed its contents on an easily viewed screen. Pamphlets and donor envelopes adorned each table. Clearly, we were not going to sit at ease without being exposed to the trials and tribulations of the have-nots. Invisible, but present in the room with us, were those who have not a meal to eat, a home in which to live comfortably, an education to assist them in getting a job, a car to give them traveling ease.
Upon reflection, I was amused by the wisdom of the presenters. They allowed us time to chat, consume a bountiful breakfast, be served in style, and feel abundantly appreciated before they painted a picture of the real Brunswick family.
Fred Stephens, the interim executive director, clearly colored outside the lines of our comfort zones when he stated data regarding the state of affairs among the less fortunate in our midst. His data was expanded in the words of Ken Papaj, chairperson of the organization.
As our emptied plates were removed from the table, our empty hearts were being filled. We heard dire statistics regarding the numbers of children whose only meals are those they receive at school. We were confronted with the reality our complaints about high electric bills, fueled by our need to be comfortable, to have as many television channels as we like and as many “toys” as we can accommodate, were matched by tales of those who had no money to pay for electricity or no home needing heat or air conditioning.
Their pamphlet had a jarring headline: “No pot of gold.” There is no pot of gold at the end of a magical rainbow for these, God’s children, too. The story continued.
“Reality is a harsh master, even here in Brunswick County. Never mind the pot of gold. Many of these families would like to just catch a glimpse of the rainbow.”
As the saying goes, “You’re not from around here, are you?” So many of us really aren’t from around here. We’re not physically tied by generations to this corner of the universe. We are also not tied to its crushing poverty, it’s hopelessness. We came here to be part of the paradise this area offers, with little knowledge of its underside. We came here, in happy retirement, so we’d not be confronted with harsh reality. Yet, it is here. It is now. It must be viewed, addressed, and ultimately banished.
I was moved by what I heard. I was impressed with the professionalism with which the multiple problems of the poor were being addressed. With full recognition that services are sometimes multiplied or overlap, Brunswick Family Assistance is committed to minimizing that duplication of efforts, even in the face of the immensity of this county and the significant challenges that come when distance is an issue and rural areas outnumber urban ones.
The needs are great, perhaps greater than we imagined. It was noted that “one in eight Brunswick county residents is living below the poverty level and the unemployment rate has been above 10 percent for most of 2012. During these hard economic times, more people are falling through the ‘safety net.’ BFA is seeing more of the working poor and middle class, many holding more than one job, seeking assistance because they cannot make ends meet.”
Organizations like BFA make a difference because each of us makes a difference. Without these kinds of organizations, the poor become enslaved in poverty. They become desperate. Injustice dogs their steps and despair ices their hearts and spirits.
Without our help, each of us who has much, or at least more than those who must seek assistance, BFA becomes extinct. It disappears into the poverty it tried so hard to dispel.
The message is jarring, I know. It strikes at the core of our being. It unveils our individual prosperity and asks us what we are doing with our riches. I do not like to face those words, to hear them erode my complacency. I want to hide behind the many things I do and say, “Enough!”
Then I think about all those folks who awaken to less than enough, awaken every day to wonder if they will be able to endure the pain of hunger, helplessness, hopelessness, homelessness. Don’t I have enough to offer them some of my bounty?
Papaj ended his presentation with a haunting statement from a Bruce Springsteen song. It weighed heavily, but not hurtfully on my consciousness. He quoted:
“I been knocking on the door that holds the throne.
I been looking for the map that leads me home.
I been stumbling on good hearts turned to stone.
The road of good intentions has gone dry as bone...
Where’re the eyes, the eyes with the will to see?
Where’re the hearts, that run over with mercy?
Where’s the love that has not forsaken me?
Where’s the work that’ll set my hands, my soul free?
Where’s the spirit that’ll reign rain over me?
Where’s the promise from sea to shining sea?
Wherever this flag is flown,
We take care of our own.”
Do we? Will we? I surely hope so.

Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Novant Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at grammistfran@gmail.com.