Maybe we can’t solve the big problems, but we can make a difference

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After the San Bernardino shootings last fall, my despair started festering. That was the drop that finally made the bucket spill over.

DebraDeAngeloW

We have so many shootings in this country, whether at the hands of terrorists or deranged individuals, that you start to numb out. The sheer volume of misery is psychologically overwhelming. It’s like thinking about all the unwanted dogs and cats being euthanized by the ton every day or thousands of children starving to death across the globe by the hour. It’s an endless cascade of pain and misery over which most of us have little, if any, control.

So, you could worry yourself into a rubber room or distract yourself with some enjoyable but meaningless activity (the “Pokémon Go” craze is no accident) to occupy your mind rather than dissolve in a pool of sorrow for humanity.

Me, I submerged myself in medieval British history by way of Philippa Gregory novels and obsessed over Tudor history, in particular, the reign of Henry VIII.

You know — kinder, gentler times.

But you can only console yourself with stories of blood, beheadings and torture for so long. Reality ultimately barges in and won’t be ignored.

After San Bernardino, pondering my own helplessness to do anything about these situations, I decided to find something in my own community where I could make a difference. Where are there disenfranchised residents right here where I live, and how can I help? Our continuation high school sprang to mind. It has always bothered me that these students often end up at Wolfskill because of extraordinary difficulties and setbacks, not because they are inferior. And yet — they’re stigmatized as such by the rest of the community.

As serendipity would have it, just as a target group was forming in my mind, a Wolfskill teacher approached me and said he was wanting to start a school newspaper.

Bingo.

I offered some guidance to the up-and-coming journalists, photographers and editors, and told them that they really could do this, and change the way the community looks at them in the process. They came through like champions. They knocked it out of the park with the first edition of the Wolfskill News & Review, completely surpassing my expectations.

When I brought the finished product to their classroom and heaped genuine praise upon them, the most amazing thing happened: Some of them smiled.

The feeling of igniting hope, self-esteem and pride in those who are sorely lacking it: pure gold.

We’re on summer break now, but I’m hoping to pick right back up in the fall. I’m determined that no one, particularly teenagers, should feel unappreciated and disenfranchised in our community. But beyond my efforts and those of their teacher, Robert Arosteguy, as well as the students themselves, something else wonderful happened: A few generous souls sent checks to help pay the publishing cost, and the local Rotary Club greed to pick up the entire bill in the fall. In other words — others were inspired to jump in and help. How cool is that?

More recently, I attended the annual Bastille Day Feast here in Winters, a fabulous spread of local produce, meat and wine, all coordinated by the Winters Farm to School program, to raise funds. All of the proceeds go toward purchasing fresh produce that is served to Winters children every day at their school lunches. It’s literally changing lives.

Our kids are learning that salad bars are tasty, and that there’s a world of delicious fruits and veggies to discover. Not only are they expanding their young palates and learning to eat healthy food, they also have their own farmers markets sponsored by Winters Farm to School, where they can select produce to take home and cook with their families. Meanwhile, the local farmers are being supported as well, because they’re selling their crops to the program.

At last weekend’s fundraiser, it really struck me — the importance of bringing this high-quality local food to every single Winters child, every single day. There are some tireless women behind this effort, most notably Cathleen Olsen, Patty Rominger and Melanie Bajakian Pickerel, who are the engines of Winters Farm to School. But I also realized that the people who go to the event each year, whether just purchasing a meal ticket or bidding high on the amazing auction items in the spirit of raising big funds — they’re all helping, too. Each of us in our own way is chipping in to help the Winters Farm to School team keep on chugging along.

We have a hunger issue in Yolo County. Recent studies have shown that “food insecurity” is a problem. Not everyone can count on having enough food. Is it crazy to think that there’s a way to feed them all, and not just pasteurized, processed junk, but real, fresh, healthy food? Maybe. But while the rest of us declare it crazy, the Winters Farm to School team is just digging in and doing it.

The point here is that in my own tiny community, I’ve found ways to support others who need it, whether through my own effort or monetary contributions, and I put to you that maybe there’s something you can do in your own community to spread some support and kindness to those who need it most. Maybe it’s volunteering for a mental health crisis line or at a reading program. Maybe it’s helping out with a fundraiser, or simply donating to a fundraiser, even if it’s just five bucks. It all adds up.

If we all committed to just one thing in our communities to help those who feel “less than” or ostracized or simply hungry, maybe we can mitigate some of the violence and horror that permeates the news. Maybe we can help prevent some of it.

Commit to kindness. Just pick something and stick with it. Maybe we can fill the kindness bucket up, one drop at a time, until that spills over, too.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at debra@wintersexpress.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com

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