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Cupboards-bare plea shines light on need that extends well beyond one man's troubles
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Clarence Blackmon's cupboards are overflowing now with so much food that he felt compelled and blessed to be able to share it with others through his local food bank. - photo by Lois M. Collins

Clarence Blackmon's cupboards are overflowing now with so much food that he felt compelled — and blessed — to be able to share it with others through his local food bank.

He's the 81-year-old veteran from North Carolina who made news around the world after he called 911 because he was hungry. He'd been hospitalized for quite some time battling cancer, according to news reports. When he finally made it home again, he had nothing to eat and no way to get food for himself.

But the piece of his story that struck me as the most heart-wrenching is that when he reached out for help, it was to an anonymous emergency services dispatcher.

That woman, Marilyn Hinson, wrote down his simple shopping list and made sure he got what he needed. Then she spread the word and a caring community that goes well beyond his city's borders has responded with great gusto and generosity.

The question it leaves me asking is how many other elderly people are out there, alone in communities across the country, without enough to eat or people they'd feel comfortable calling to ask for help. And how many people are there who'd be willing to make a run to the grocery store if the two of them could just find each other?

It's human nature, I think, to take care of a need when it presents itself to us, but to otherwise be fairly unaware. I know this story has made me wonder about the hidden struggles of those around me.

I've written many stories over the years about people in dire circumstances of various types. I wrote once about a man who had a dreadful, potentially terminal illness and was trying to make it back home to his mom in Thunder Bay, Ontario, but had a series of calamities. People who read the story made it possible for him to get home.

I wrote another time about a family that couldn't afford a funeral — and readers provided that, too. Stories about kids who won't have Christmas elicit gifts that take care of it.

It's heartwarming, but it's also always a sober reminder to me that there are other people whose needs are comparable and invisible because they weren't a part of some gut-wrenching news story. I think we should all be searching them out, though it takes a little bit of work sometimes and I am as bad as anyone else when it comes to making the extra effort.

The failure of human nature is thinking that if we all help that one guy that we know about, the job is done and the need is met. I've taken those phone calls at Christmas from folks who want to help the one family that was profiled in the article. If others have met that need, the response is interesting. Some callers are game to help others with similar needs if you explain there are still families who could benefit. Others are touched by that story and want to help just that family.

I feel great joy when I read about the response to Blackmon's needs, but I wonder who will be there for him in a month or six months or a year. Will everyone fade away or will someone stick with him?

I really hope that some of those who were touched by his story will be nudged to look for others in similar situations who really could use a helping hand. I need to do that, as well. North Carolina's too far away for me to do much good for him, but I can certainly reach into my own community and try to give someone a hand.