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Tom Gordner: Neighbors’ generosity a humbling experience

On a Saturday this spring, Scout Troop 400 had a chance to once again witness the heartwarming generosity of our neighbors. The Boy Scouts around Western New York ran a collection drive for a number of food pantries. Together with Troop 509, we were assigned to a Hamburg supermarket just inside the door.

We were astonished by the free-flowing charity we experienced. Shoppers were given a card upon entering the market and asked to purchase a nonperishable item and drop it in our cart after they finished shopping. The response was beyond anything we imagined.

We stood there thanking an uninterrupted parade of folks dropping not individual items, but entire bags full of groceries in our carts. We repeatedly unloaded carts into a waiting van for transport to the Outreach Center at Saints Peter and Paul Church.

The experience for us was more like a party than a chore. We met friends, neighbors, former teachers, high school volleyball teammates and friendly strangers. It was fun to watch people give items related to their own point of view.

Young moms gave diapers. Grandmothers gave toothpaste and brushes. Single people donated Ramen noodles or their favorite snacks. Parents of teens gave cereal and peanut butter. Old couples donated pasta and soup. Folks who meant to buy something but forgot walked up and stuffed cash, occasionally big bills, in our hands. Kind words accompanied every donation.

The old cliche proved true that day. It really is often the folks who can least afford it who are the most generous. It was humbling, and it was necessary a couple of times to stifle tears at the selfless generosity. Mid-afternoon, the assistant manager walked up with an entire shopping cart of groceries donated by the supermarket.

In the end, at least 20 shopping carts full of groceries were delivered to the Outreach Center. I was told later that the staff was quite surprised and grateful for the large quantity of donations. The event was successful all over Western New York.

Think about it. You walk into a building and just inside the door somebody steps up and stuffs a piece of paper in your hand that says, in effect, go buy something with your money, then bring it here and give it to us. Yet nearly everybody was OK with that. They understood the need and sympathized. What a worthwhile example for our youth to witness an hours-long succession of generous acts by people of every age and circumstance.

Who knows what makes the people of Western New York so charitable? Is it the long, cold winters or the hard-knocks legacy? Whatever the reason, so many times I have seen examples of the selflessness of people in this community.

It is in the crowds of people who show up for charity fundraisers at fire halls, and the armies of volunteers at village cleanup events, the folks occupying every street corner between Hamburg and Buffalo selling The News on Kids Day, and the way a dozen cars pull over within seconds of an accident to lend a hand.

The people here are kind and generous. That, more than anything else, makes this a good place to live and bring up a family. A healthy economy, development, revitalization – they are all great, but even more valuable is living in a community of good neighbors.