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    Friday, January 27, 2023

    Inflate generosity

    A giant Santa on the lawn is not the only inflatable this season.

    Most people are painfully aware that electricity and home heating oil are going way up. Health care premiums are coming in higher than ever. The scarcity of rental properties has landlords upping rents for current tenants, who must either pay more or move out. Loans, including mortgages, now carry the highest interest rates in decades, since the Federal Reserve began raising rates to discourage borrowing and curb inflation.

    While we wait to see if the Fed manages to lower inflation, people who can ordinarily afford to buy what they want can instead decide to defer some purchases -- which is basically what the Fed wants. Households that normally make just enough to get by, however, are bracing for serious hardship this winter. They don’t have “discretionary” income. Some will be making impossible choices.

    There are ways to help. As it has every year beginning with the Great Recession in 2008, The Day is rolling out its Make A Difference project -- beautiful in its simplicity and bountiful in its effects, thanks to the generosity of readers.

    Make A Difference begins with an invitation from The Day to human services agencies to submit a brief description of the difficulties facing a specific client -- by first name only -- and what they need to get back on their feet. A Day journalist writes up a short story; one of those runs daily between Thanksgiving and Christmas, in print and online. To donate, a person simply contacts the agency named in the article.

    For 15 years readers have responded generously, knowing they can depend that their assistance will reach the person or family in need. Often, so many donations come in that an agency can spread the support to additional clients. The agencies report back, and at the end of the year we publish a story to let readers know how they have helped.

    Every story shared for Make A Difference tells of specific challenges people face here and now. But whatever their difficulties with health, housing, domestic problems or lack of a job, one problem they all share: Everybody always has to eat.

    The most immediate, in-your-face effect of inflation is the daily or weekly cost of food. Shopping for Thanksgiving this year shocked even for those who could afford to spend what it took to keep the family traditions alive. For less financially stable households, it was a crisis. United Way of Southeastern Connecticut reports that one in six children here (16.1%) is food insecure, and the overall food insecurity rate is 11.2%. If that moves us, as it should, United Way welcomes our support of the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center.

    There is also a way to make generosity personal, not just in the holidays, but all year long.

    A normally kind and generous woman I knew, who volunteered her time and expertise and served as a mentor to many, inadvertently taught me not to forget the simplest way to acknowledge a hardworking person in a low-wage job: Tip well; or, tip even better.

    My friend was a terrible tipper. Most likely it came from a lifetime of thrift, but she would get up from lunch and put a few coins on the table. I could imagine how that felt to the server. It added virtually nothing to take-home pay and it belittled the person’s work.

    Former Ohio newspaper columnist Connie Schultz told this story about tipping at a gathering for The Women & Girls Fund of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut in 2011: A woman working at the coat desk for an evening function at an Ohio hotel had also served at the dinner. Schultz commented to her that she looked tired.

    “I’m exhausted,” the woman replied. At least she had the tips jar, Schultz said. The woman said no. Management kept the contents of the jar.

    Schultz wrote that story, and people began canceling weddings and other events. Right away, the hotel changed its policy to let workers keep the tips. Schultz went further and advised her listeners to tip in cash, right into the hand of the person who earned it. A decent tip becomes part of a living wage and a nod to a job well done.

    Tip. Donate. Inflate generosity.

    Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day Editorial Board.

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