Tough times bring out the best

TheStar.com – Opinion/Comment – Tough times bring out the best
Published On Sat Dec 12 2009.   Frances Lankin CEO of United Way Toronto, Arthur Peters Executive Director of ShareLife of the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, Ted Sokolsky President and CEO of United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto

According to Statistics Canada, the worst recession since the Great Depression has ended. Perhaps this is true for some – but for too many of our friends and neighbours, the challenges are just beginning.

Few people made it through the recent economic downturn unscathed. Regardless of who you are, where you live or what your situation is, you most likely were negatively impacted in some way. Retirees suffered a major decline in the value of their retirement savings. Those currently in the workforce saw a decrease in investment income. Many workers had their hours cut or were laid off from their jobs completely. And those in our community who were struggling in good economic times fell even further behind. Torontonians in every corner of our city are facing more pressure this year than ever before.

Early indicators suggest the economy is on the mend, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Statistics show significant unemployment, particularly in our province and specifically in the City of Toronto. Also troubling is the rising number of personal bankruptcies, delinquent credit card payments and requests for social assistance.

We all hope a full recovery is just around the corner, but we know there is a long delay between the market bouncing back and things improving in the community.

Though need continues to grow, Statistics Canada data show charitable giving has declined at a time when it’s needed most. The pressure on our community is great right now. Many of those who have recently lost their jobs are the very people who donated to charity last year. As a result, charities everywhere are working harder to raise urgently needed funds.

As we cast a hopeful eye toward an economic recovery, we are reminded of the magnitude of the task at hand. Too many people in our community need urgent help, a hot meal or a safe bed for the night. This is typically the first wave of assistance that’s required during hard times.

But as the economy continues to struggle, as social assistance benefits run out and people still can’t find work, we’re beginning to see signs of deeper distress like chronic hunger, long-term homelessness and rising domestic abuse.

Too many people in our community are losing hope. Many more still need less urgent but equally vital assistance to help them get back on their feet, like personal counselling, interview coaching, life skills training, assistance balancing their chequebook or managing debt, or help settling into a new life in a new country.

Without a doubt, these are tough times. As charities that help people when they need help most, we see this every day. But times like these have a way of bringing out the best in people. We are constantly reminded that we’re all in this together – that people from diverse points of view, representing all corners of our multi-faceted community, can come together in a spirit of compassion to protect the most vulnerable in our city. This is what makes our city great.

It is in this spirit of unity that we, as charities representing hundreds of front-line agencies and thousands of volunteers, call on our community to come together. At a time of year that is special to so many people, we issue this challenge to all Torontonians: please join us. If you already give to charity, we ask you to dig a bit deeper this year for your charity of choice. If you haven’t yet made a donation to help others, please make this the year when you lend a helping hand. We know that when we reach out to help one person, we transform our entire community.

We don’t know what will happen in the weeks and months ahead, but we do know we must pull together to recover from the recent economic storm. We can’t do much to fix the economy on our own. But there is something concrete we can do: We can come together and we can choose to help one another.

The act of giving is simple but profoundly powerful. It connects us to one another, and makes each one of us stronger, more resilient. Please take a moment during this special time of year to reflect on the promise of our great city, and commit yourself to joining our efforts to make these dreams a reality. Let’s put our shared aspirations to work. Let’s build a better future for all.

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