Give thanks, make a difference

Ah, Thanksgiving is upon us once again. The anticipation and joy that comes with the fall season is motivation enough to get into the mood. The aroma of pumpkin pies baking in the oven, of turkey and stuffing, along with sweet potatoes and all the fixings—it is a delightful adventure for the senses.

The autumn air, the crisp crunching of leaves as one walks across the multi-colored lawn invigorates the soul, and we look forward to the arrival of family and friends for that most glorious of days.

That is generally the case, but perhaps not this year. Pardon me for raining on the parade for a moment:

• Teeny tiny light in the darkest night

A number of folks on social media—some of them friends—are expressing their gratitude in a 30-day expression of thanksgiving. It is actually refreshing to read these posts, considering that much of the past 12 months have not resembled respectful dialogue.

Even so, these delightful notes of thanksgiving are in the minority among social media folks.

• Global tragedy: war, starvation, mass killing, genocide

As I began the week, CBS’s “60 Minutes” focused on the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East, where two Islamic groups are engaged in a civil war, one side backed by Saudi Arabia and the other supported by Iran. Civilians are the alleged unintended victims caught in the crossfire. The blockade halting relief supplies of food and medicine, enforced by Saudi Arabia and backed by militia, is creating the beginning of mass starvation and many of the victims are innocent children.

Transposed among the pictures of dying children, I saw my granddaughters, and I had to look away from the horror. Looking into the eyes of the children, they were pleading for their lives.

The first sign of a heart of compassion is one who identifies with the powerless and oppressed. They can do nothing for us, but we can help them in ways they cannot help themselves.

As we gather around the table and bow our heads in gratitude and thanksgiving for the bounty that feeds us, more than we ever need, can we say a prayer and intercede on their behalf? Can we use our financial and political resources to move mountains and do what we can to stop this carnage?

• If not us, then who?

This question became my unwavering mission as I began my journey into advocating for agricultural producers in state and national affairs, more than 15 years ago. It was a conversation during a growers’ board meeting that became the springboard for action. I could no longer stand on the sidelines.

Becoming involved in a noble cause often requires great personal sacrifice. Whether one chooses to engage people in meaningful dialogue regarding food and agriculture, or provoking thoughtful dialogue by taking the knee at a sporting event, they require complete and brutally focused commitment to the cause.

Black lives do matter. And so do the lives of all people matter—law enforcement, the military and the general public at music concerts in Las Vegas.

It is the same with abortion. It is, after all, a matter of life and death. But it doesn’t stop there. Children’s lives, once born, do matter as well, regardless of the financial abilities of the people who are responsible for them.

One of the significant growing threats in our country is the increasing numbers of children who may only have access to one meal a day. Thanks to the USDA and other funding sources for food purchases, organizations like Snack Pack 4 Kids are able to meet the rising demand.

But that’s not a given or a guarantee it will continue. Due to a general lack of knowledge and appreciation for such programs, largely funded by the USDA, the Trump administration has been lax in its focus on it and may want to severely cut funding,

This inattention, either by default or by intentional design, as some advocates now believe, is the administration’s effort to reduce the size of government.

For a deeper look at this issue, read an exposé by Michael Lewis in the Nov. 2 edition of Vanity Fair. Link here:

If not us, then who will stand up and be the hands and feet of everyman? If the government will not or cannot do it, will we step up and stand in the gap?

Perhaps this dialogue has temporarily diminished a reader’s appetite for turkey and dressing, as starving children at home and abroad suffer without just cause. Perhaps it was worth the sacrifice this time.

Look into their eyes just one more time, and then say a prayer of Thanksgiving that can make a difference.

You can interact with Paul Penner at smokeyjay@­

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