Just when a nasty election campaign threatens to fracture us all into percentage points, a good northeaster blows in to remind us of what binds us together. When the second storm battered the Northeast last week, neighbors and strangers responded as they often do with acts of heroism and kindness, large and small. Though the Island was spared the worst of the storm’s anger, there was plenty of cleanup to be done. But even before Vineyarders started removing downed tree limbs and taking stock of damage to their own homes and docks, Ryan Murtha of Edgartown was organizing care packages to take to much harder hit communities in New York and New Jersey.
The generosity of Islanders is well known, and Mr. Murtha’s story is just a recent example of a common phenomenon here of regular folks taking it upon themselves to help others in need. Consider Betty Burton, who began organizing the Family-to-Family program eight years ago to provide people facing financial hardship with a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Last year, about 400 people enjoyed a full holiday dinner, thanks to the program.
The basics of the meals are supplied by Bob Pacheco and his family at Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs. Donations of fresh produce come from local farm markets.
As we approach Thanksgiving, the evidence of people quietly helping each other is everywhere. Family-to-Family is just one aspect of a network of food programs on the Island under the umbrella of the Vineyard Committee On Hunger. The Island Food Pantry serves people twice a month and Serving Hands provides food from the Greater Boston Food Bank monthly. The Edgartown suppers are already under way and soon the churches in many of the other towns will begin to serve free dinners once a week, too.
The Red Stocking fund, led by Kerry Alley, is now accepting applications from families who need clothing and food for children from birth through eighth grade. More than 400 children were helped last year by this Island-grown program.
The list goes on.
Those of us who have lived elsewhere understand that this impulse to help one’s neighbor in need is not unique to the Vineyard, but make no mistake: it is uncommon. Maybe it’s an Island thing: when the chips are down, everyone’s family.