Our View: Responding to need, Alexandria style

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(File photo)

Alexandria has a well-deserved reputation as a giving community. Maybe it stems from being home to so many local and national nonprofit associations.

Or maybe it’s because so many military and civilian government workers — people who often view their jobs as a calling rather than a mere occupation — make their homes in the Port City.

Whatever the reason, a willingness to help others is deeply ingrained in our city’s culture. One of the most obvious manifestations of our city’s philanthropic bent comes each spring, when ACT for Alexandria holds Spring2ACTion, an online day of giving that annually raises more than $1 million for local charities in 24 hours. ACT President John Porter reminds us to put April 5 on our calendars in his column this week.

In addition, hundreds of people who live and work in Alexandria participate in Volunteer Alexandria’s annual community service day, which will be held May 12. For many, these two days of giving back are spring milestones.

While those days of giving are quantifiable in terms of dollars and volunteers, much of the philanthropy in Alexandria occurs below the radar screen. For example, another rite of spring is the Christian season of Lent; while many people give something up during the 40-day Lenten season, others quietly take on a regimen of giving.

Many hundreds more give their time through organized, ongoing volunteer efforts, which range from tutoring and mentoring in schools to making meals for the homeless and visiting people who are homebound. It’s a form of giving when parents take the time to coach their child’s soccer or baseball teams, or when children serve as acolytes or altar boys and girls.

Other times the need, and thus the giving, is short-term and spontaneous.

We saw an example of such an immediate response to a need this week, when the last-minute decision by Alexandria City Public Schools to close on Wednesday after more than 300 staff members requested leave left many parents scrambling to find care for their children.

Whether or not one supported the national Day Without a Woman strike or the decision by ACPS to close was secondary to the need to line up child care.

Not surprisingly, Alexandrians stepped into the breach to help one another. As chronicled in our story on the ACPS closing, Kelley Smith was, by a coincidence of timing, home this week and she and friends reached out to others via Facebook to let them know they could help.

Parents and administrators at other schools also volunteered to organize and find ways to make sure that those who could not take off from work could secure supervision for their children.

This kind of immediate response is admirable and, in Alexandria, not unusual. Sometimes a person will organize meals for a friend going through a medical emergency or give extra rides, without worrying about the scorecard of “whose turn it is” when a family is in distress.

As the rancor of our current era seemingly grows more cacophonous by the week, Alexandria’s culture of giving becomes even more important. When we are serving lunches to the needy or watching a neighbor’s children for them, it doesn’t matter whether we are a Democrat or a Republican, religious or a nonbeliever.

In fact, seeing those with whom we disagree politically also providing support in the community helps unify us. Ultimately, what matters is that we recognize need and we respond.

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