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Clare Higgins: Let’s show our gratitude

Thanksgiving Day is a time to pause and give thanks for all of the blessings in our life. We stop, as a country, and make gratitude lists. And I have a lot to be grateful for! A job, a home, my health, enough money to feed myself and keep myself warm. Good friends, a wonderful family, and the cutest dog around. A community and a region that values education, the environment, and the arts. A region that strives for justice and cares about people left behind in this economy.

It’s disconcerting that, while we are making gratitude lists, we are also making shopping lists! Major retailers are opening their doors at midnight after Thanksgiving and we are pouring in to get that flat-screen TV or that laptop computer. We barely have time to wallow in gratitude before we charge back into acquisition mode.

I am certainly not immune — I’ve got a list. It’s hard not to have one since we are bombarded with emails, newspaper, TV, and radio ads about Black Friday.

Remember Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly’s concern that liberals had declared a “War on Christmas”? Well, I think that there is a “War on Thanksgiving.” If not for our Blue Laws, Massachusetts might have joined the rest of the country in shopping right after Thanksgiving dinner. Here in Massachusetts, you had to wait until at least midnight. Retail employees got to see their families on the holiday and we didn’t rush the meal to get to the mall.

And some of us are worried about all of the rushing since it looks like we might also be rushing over the “fiscal cliff” at the end of the year. While it looks like President Obama (who is on my gratitude list) is talking to Speaker Boehner (not on my list), and a plan may be devised, things will probably get worse for those who need governmental assistance. There may well be cuts in discretionary spending (student loans, food stamps, fuel assistance) as well as changes to Social Security. While the economy seems to be improving, the improvement is fragile.

So, consumers, businesses and governments are rightly cautious. And those needing the safety net, many of them children, the elderly, and working people earning low incomes, are frightened. And the organizations that help them need help too.

So instead of rushing to the mall, I am going to make a list. It’s a list of all of the organizations that I will contribute to by the end of this year. You could call it my Gratitude in Action list. I think that most of us have a list like this. My list includes Heat Up, Community Action’s fund to help pay heat and utility costs for neighbors and friends who may not qualify for fuel assistance from the federal government or who may need more help than the limited amount available through the program. The Center for New Americans is on my list, as is the Literacy Project. So is the Real Cost of Prisons and Partners in Health. There are others; all agencies and organizations that help those in need or that try to make change in this difficult time.

This year, I am excited to be able to make my donations to at least some of the organizations on my list through Valley Gives Day, a new online philanthropic event happening on 12/12/12 co-sponsored by community-based organizations up and down the Valley.

Led by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, the sponsors include the Beveridge and Davis Foundations, the Jewish Endowment Foundation, the Women’s Fund, the Jewish Federation, and the United Ways of Franklin, Hampshire and the Pioneer Valley. This initiative leverages social media to benefit participating nonprofits. While I didn’t post a picture of the turkey on my Facebook page, I will be connecting with Valley Gives through Facebook and I am thankful to it for helping me check off items on my Gratitude in Action list.

Clare Higgins of Northampton, the city’s former mayor, is executive director of the nonprofit Community Action! of the Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin Regions. She writes a monthly column.

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