By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli, SMM
It is hard to believe that another holiday season is upon us. Our neighborhoods are decorated with lights, bows and wreaths. There’s a different spirit in the air despite the national and international landscape of fear, hate, terror and violence.
People really seem to make an effort to reach out especially to those in need during this time of year. Countless high schools, middle schools and elementary schools are sponsoring cake sales, toy drives and other creative initiatives to raise money for the poor and needy.
I am continually amazed at people’s compassion and generosity. Our local young people are dynamic and amazing. Recently a student from the Knox School reached out and said they wanted to do something special for the homeless.
A woman from Sound Beach shared a compelling story about a new pizzeria — a local woman wanted to buy two pizzas for a needy family and asked if the owner would match that. He did that and something more. He posted a coupon on his bulletin board for a free drink and slice of pizza for anyone who might need it; thanks to social media dozens of people were buying a soda and a slice for a needy person.
Allegedly a person who was down on his luck and very hungry took a free slice of pizza and a drink. His luck changed and he is now fully employed and came back to that pizzeria and posted a coupon for free slice and drink and a big note saying thank you for feeding me when I was down and out!
In Miller Place the Teachers Association did something very courageous with the support of their superintendent and school board. They sponsored a walk around their football field, with the slogan “Don’t Start, Be Smart.” They raised a few thousand dollars on that sunny fall afternoon and gave the proceeds to a local residential rehab. They sponsored this walk after one of their bright young alumni overdosed on heroin. He was an honors senior at the State University of Stony Brook.
During this holiday season there are hopeful signs that people do care and want to make a positive difference in the world. However, we still have to do so much more.
Too many vibrant bright young people are falling between the cracks. The heroin epidemic is out of control. The level of denial is still infectious. It is easy to blame the homeless who have no fixed address and/or no voice; they are the victims too!
What is deeply frightening is that a growing number of our young well-educated young people are having their heroin dropped off at their homes. Local drug dealers are now showing up at 12-step meetings all over and selling potentially lethal drugs to people in early recovery who are struggling to take it one day at a time. It is becoming a vicious nightmare.
We need to create a coalition of caring citizens that represents families, schools, churches, synagogues and mosques across the county. We need to stand together and challenge our government bureaucracy that has become deaf and blind to this epidemic and demand more beds for detoxification and long-term residential treatment.
During this season of hope let us light a candle for all those who have lost their fight to live and remember those who are struggling to live one day at a time, those who are battling addiction and those with serious mental health issues. Let us not shun them but welcome them with open arms and compassionate hearts.
Fr. Pizzarelli is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.