·  by Doug May, SOAR Chapter 7-34-2

Dist. 7 SOAR Chapter Collects Food, Gifts for Laid Off Steelworkers

We all experience the good feelings of joy that come with the Christmas season. The spontaneous wishes expressed to friends and strangers alike to have a happy Christmas as we smile and walk away. We experience the joyful, personal rewards during the season that become second nature when you hear the clanging of the bell outside the stores, knowing that those in need will be offered a little extra help as people stop and drop money into the ringer’s bucket.

So much of that conditioned joy can change when confronted with the harsh reality of a recognizable face, not an unknown person living in a local shelter. The reality when we become painfully aware that it’s our friends, your former co-workers, and maybe a relative who have, by no fault of their own,  have now become recipients of these donations . What formerly was a faceless person in need is now that guy I worked with for years. You know, the one who shared his family stories as his children grew. The man who was so self-reliant he resisted the offer for help when you knew he was building an addition to his home to house his growing family. He has now become one of the many struggling parents who could use a little extra help this Christmas season.

Working in partnership, SOAR, USW Locals 1899, 50, 1063, 68, the United Way our friends from local law firms combined efforts with many Madison and St. Clair County elected officials in the shared desire to give back to those in need during the Holiday Food Basket Giveaway for laid off steelworkers in Granite City, Il.

A mindful volunteer would find the scene of displayed generosity and brotherhood uplifting.  After all, ‘tis the season for giving. So many personal stories of hardship and completely unanticipated life-altering decisions were revealed, listening to the many proud but hurting steelworkers who were lined up, waiting to gather the filled baskets as they still struggle to come to terms with the surreal reality of being so unexpectedly placed in this position of an extraordinary long layoff.

The distribution of 26,500 pounds of food from the St. Louis area Food Bank, gift cards, clothing donations organized by Katie Stuart were moved with the goal of helping many of the 2,000 steelworkers that are on layoff from Granite City manufacturers. 

A longtime steelworker shared his forced-into-retirement story in order to receive retiree medical coverage as his wife has chronic medical needs and his active member medical coverage has expired. Other tough life decisions were shared while the crowd lined up; home foreclosures; downsizing everything from autos to Christmas gifts for the worker’s children; completing school but finding no family supporting employment.

Steelworkers, SOAR and their many friends who helped out don’t just drive in for a quick tarmac tap of seasonal goodwill. We don’t forget our laid off friends and families in our communities. Let’s hope the countless expressions of gratitude inspire us all to approach benevolence with the same attitude throughout the year. May the New Year bring steelworkers, and all of those wishing for a better life, happiness, good health and sustainable employment that will offer them and their family’s real opportunities.

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