Let’s observe two-pronged message of Thanksgiving

As citizens of the United States, as residents of the Mahoning Valley and as members of proud families, Thanksgiving Day 2012 affords all an opportune time to reflect on the benefits, blessings and bounties bestowed upon us over the past year.

As we gather today around tables to reunite with loved ones and feast upon turkey with all the trimmings, it is instructive to recall the foundation of the tradition 391 years ago. At that first Thanksgiving in Plymouth Colony, Pilgrims and Native Americans sat down together in a spirit of peace and acceptance of diversity to celebrate their collective good fortune.

But in 1621, just as in 2012, not all of this nation’s people had a seat at the table of plenty. Hardships, poverty, disease and famine abounded.

And then, just as now, the dual nature of today’s holiday is stark. While many Americans rejoice with heaping helpings of reasons to give thanks, many others scrimp, scrape and struggle just to survive another day.

Reasons for thanks abound

To be sure, however, most of us have more than ample reasons to give thanks.

As Americans, over the past 12 months, our economy made noticeable sharp turns from stagnancy toward prosperity. Our nation ended a decade-long war in Iraq that cost the nation billions in dollars and, more importantly, 4,447 American lives. And our 236-year-old experiment in democracy survived and rose above a bruising, divisive and oftentimes mean-spirited presidential election.

As Mahoning Valley residents, we have seen a wealth of signs of collective improvement. Downtown Youngstown — the proud enduring hub of our region — has witnessed continued growth and diversification in business, education and entertainment. The Lordstown General Motors complex — the undeniable engine of the Valley’s economic livelihood — has witnessed employment growth and an international reputation for quality. The natural gas and oil drilling industry has brought renewed vigor to our economic base and hopes of a long-term prosperous imprint on our community. Unemployment levels have dropped to their lowest levels in four years.

As individuals and family members, we have those good old reliable reasons to give thanks to our loved ones who have supported us, nurtured us and stuck by us through hardship and happiness.

Reasons for giving abound

Yet amid the optimism at the start of the season of joy, lingering signs of adversity endure. Many will not enjoy the Norman Rockwell version of Thanksgiving Day today. Last weekend’s food giveaway at the Covelli Centre at which hundreds and hundreds of people in need had to be turned away is but one visible sign of the ongoing misfortune among us.

Other indicators may not be as visible but are stark nonetheless. About 40,000 children in the Mahoning Valley live in poverty, according to the Ohio Department of Education. New 2012 statistics from Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley show ongoing hard times for many of our neighbors: a 31 percent increase over last year in households served and a 24 percent percent increase in assistance to senior citizens.

That is why the “giving” aspect of Thanksgiving continues to demand special attention and action today and throughout the holiday season. Opportunities abound in our community to do so. Take part in The Vindicator’s Operation Holiday Cheer to lift the spirits of our selfless service men and women overseas. Contribute to Project: Feed Our Valley to ensure the growing needs of Second Harvest are met. Volunteer time to any of the Valley’s army of helping agencies.

In his 2012 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation for America, President Barack Obama captures the essence of the holiday and the two-pronged set of responsibilities it carries: “I encourage the people of the United States to join together — whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place of fellowship for friends and neighbors — and give thanks for all we have received in the past year, express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and share our bounty with others.”

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