Now is the time to be generous with our time as well as with money...
By Lucy Stephenson
LAST week I unexpectedly found myself hanging out in New York City.
It’s a long story but basically involves global warming, no snow in Lapland and an uninvitation from Santa and his elves.
But anyway, what really struck me about New York was how friendly it was and how safe we felt. It was totally unexpected.
There were clearly those in dire need out there, the beggars on the street corners, the ‘characters’ on the subway and the singing and dancing Salvation Army collectors taking donations for the needy all over the city.
It was also scary to see just how commercialised health care is out there – a giant billboard just outside the airport that advertises the ‘best children’s hospital’ in the area set the tone for the dozens of other adverts for health-related services we encountered during our short trip.
What those in need do without the means to pay for health insurance goodness knows.
The experience, however, reminded me in a way of Jersey – of the way everything is shiny and happy and caring on the surface but scratch gently and there’s a whole other world.
Because that’s exactly what we have here – a really caring, safe community, but one in which there is dire need.
The challenges may be different in Jersey, and the scale smaller, but there is no denying we have our problems. Some are unique to us – the high cost of living, for example, is a major challenge, as is living on an island it is costly to get a break from – while others are common to all societies such as mental health problems and family breakdown.
But the big difference in New York is that everyone expects it, it’s a major city after all and the stories about its dark side are well known.
Here in Jersey, the problems are more hidden. But it doesn’t take much scratching to see them.
Which is exactly why the Jersey Together campaign launched by this newspaper this week is so important.
We are calling on readers to help support members of our community who may be struggling, for any reason, in the run-up to Christmas.
The launch of the campaign followed the heartbreaking story of 30-year-old Christopher Thompson, who took his own life after falling into financial difficulties. He had, his inquest heard, started looking online for help but ultimately kept silent about his troubles which eventually overwhelmed him and led to his suicide.
He had ended up with just £18.03 a month to spend on food and he was so impoverished on the day he died that he had gone fishing just to have something to eat.
His family are now supporting the Jersey Together campaign, and they shared his story in the hope that nobody else has to experience what they have gone through.
It goes without saying that a case like this is truly unacceptable in Jersey.
And the coroner in the inquest took the unprecedented step of also urging others to seek help.
Because there is help out there – food banks such as the Grace Trust and the emergency one run by the Salvation Army are well supplied and supported by local churches, businesses and individuals.
They and others, including the founder of the Olio food sharing app, say that no one should ever go hungry in Jersey because the food is there.
But there’s more to it, of course. The food itself is important and the help provided by these organisations is invaluable and a life-line for many.
We are a hugely giving society that donates millions of pounds to charity every year and the minute an appeal is launched or disaster strikes the community rallies round with their cash.
Just this week, for example, Caring Cooks posted online about a family of seven struggling to make ends meet while being faced with the challenge of a six-month-old who is seriously ill in hospital.
They aimed to raise £250 to help the family pay for electricity over the festive season as well as Christmas dinner and a few small gifts for their children.
Very quickly they had raised £900, and that was with only a push on their own social media.
Now it is time for us to be generous with our time and over the next three weeks this newspaper will be encouraging readers to reach out to those who may be alone this Christmas.
Whether it be helping them through a very difficult period of their lives or by inviting a neighbour to share Christmas lunch, we want to hear what can be done to help.
The campaign also aims to broadcast a very simple message – that help, support and advice is available right now for anyone struggling with personal difficulty, whether it be financial or otherwise.
We care and the community cares, now we want those in need to truly feel that is the case.