HUCKABY: When disaster hits, America responds

I was a brand new teacher at Cousins Middle School, in Covington, and Christmas was coming. A local church contacted some of the staff at Cousins and asked us to have our classes "adopt" local families for the approaching holiday and help provide food, clothing and a few small toys for the children. I don't know if such activities are allowed in public schools these days. Come to think of it, I'm not sure such activities were allowed in public schools back then, either. We didn't ask permission. We just did it.

I had three families on my list and gave the students the opportunity to contribute food items or new clothes or money for a shopping spree. No pressure was put on the kids, of course, and we didn't make a big deal out of it. We just explained what we were doing and why and left it at that. Some kids contributed and some did not, and either way was fine.

But one young man in my class went out of his way to help. Every day for two weeks he would come in with something — a bag of canned goods, a pair of new socks, a handful of coins that he had collected from his neighbors. He went above and beyond the call of duty to help provide Christmas for a needy family. And when the time came, on the Friday we got out of school, to distribute the gifts, I was stunned to learn that the first name of the list of needy children was that of the young man who contributed so much to our efforts.

Now I told you that to tell you this.

We are all aware that we are going through tough times in this country economically. Unemployment is up above 10 percent and has been since October. Others of us who are fortunate enough to have kept our jobs have seen a reduction in pay. The stock market has trended downward, retirement funds have dissipated, and a lot of us face an uncertain future. You know all about the condition of the economy. You don't need me to remind you.

And we, as a society, have spent a portion of our time as of late wringing our hands and fretting over our economic future — we have indulged ourselves, if you will, in a round of pity parties. It's OK. We're entitled.

But then we turn on our televisions and we learn that there has been an earthquake in Haiti, a mere 700 miles or so to the southeast, and we realize that things aren't nearly so bad here as we thought they were. We are glued to the television sets, just as we usually are when scenes of devastation of unprecedented proportions are broadcast — the term "Biblical" has been used over and over to describe the destruction — and we pause to pray for people we don't know.

We see the toppled buildings and the desperate rescue efforts, we see thousands and thousands of people sleeping in the streets and wondering aimlessly during the day; people who own nothing but the clothes on their backs — if they even have clothes on their back — people who have no home, no food, no water — and no idea if their loved ones are living or dead.

Suddenly, our plight doesn't feel quite as desperate as it did before the images from Haiti began filling our high-definition television screens. The fact that we have to stay in a four-star resort on summer vacation instead of a five-star isn't quite as tragic.

We do what Americans have always done. We open up our hearts — and our wallets — to those in need.

There are problems in the ravaged nation of Haiti that money cannot solve. Haiti was already the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, even before Tuesday's calamity, but now the needs of that nation's people are almost beyond comprehension. Thousands are dead. Millions are homeless. An entire city has been destroyed. The world will come to Haiti's aid and the nation that will step forward the fastest — as always — will be the United States of America.

People love to bash America. They call us greedy. They call us capitalist pigs — and worse. They hold public protests against our policies and they rant and rave and stomp on our flag — and worse. They call us Satan and names that can't be printed in this paper. And yet as quick as they are to condemn us, they are even quicker to accept the aid we give them and we are the first place they turn when they need a handout. And we are always — always, always, always — the first to respond and the most generous. Our response to this unparalleled disaster will be no different.

I guess we are a lot like that young man in my very first class. God bless us, and may God bless the people of Haiti.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.