Give Till It Works


A recent visitor to our office told us a story she’d just heard from friends, about a food pantry director in a West Texas city who’d suffered a nervous breakdown on the job. That story is all too consistent with the more mundane news coming out of food banks and emergency assistance outfits these days.

In Austin, hard hit by the dot-com bust, the Capital Area Food Bank received 170 first-time requests for aid in October, compared with 20 in October 2000. At Dallas’s North Texas Food Bank, demand is up 10 percent, while donations have fallen 35 percent. Other social service agencies are reporting similar trends. In this issue’s cover story and photo essay, Judith Torrea describes how the combination of economic downturn and heightened “security” has affected El Paso, a city already strained by the disappearance of the garment industry and immigration pressures. With poverty on the rise, this will be a difficult holiday season for many.

Meanwhile, our president appears in a television commercial for the travel industry. It has been suggested that our patriotic duty is to go shopping, preferably for big-ticket items. Such exhortations have a note of less-than-quiet desperation to them, a sense that when it comes to our manic consumer economy, even a short-term deviation from the overheated norm could imperil the whole system—a couple fewer of us head out to Best Buy this month, and by January the basis of our national vitality will have been revealed to be nothing but a rickety scaffold built from expired credit cards. Kind of like Enron.

Judging by this writer’s own harrowing visit to an Austin mall on a recent Saturday, though, the stores are not suffering too badly. And while there’s nothing wrong with buying a trip to Florida or a large appliance, we have yet to encounter the person for whom a new dishwasher is actually a point of civic pride. Might there be an even more patriotic way to dispose of one’s holiday bonus?

There is, and not only is it patriotic, it’s tax-deductible.

No, this is not another plea on behalf of the Observer—if you’re a subscriber, you should have received that in the mail already. This is about our friends. A number of Texas nonprofit groups help keep us—and policymakers—informed about the issues that matter, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, Consumers’ Union, Environmental Defense, the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, Planned Parenthood, Public Citizen, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Texas Abortion Rights and Reproductive Action League, Texas Center for Policy Studies, Texas Defender Service, Texas Freedom Network, and Texans for Public Justice. Last we heard, they were all accepting donations. (This list is not meant to be comprehensive; apologies to those we’ve overlooked.)

And then there are the many charitable organizations trying to cope with growing demand and shrinking contributions. Please help avoid more nervous breakdowns at food banks.

‘Tis the season—now, more than ever.