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A month to be thankful for community assets: Susannah Gal

Posted 11/14/18

This is a month of giving thanks — to our veterans for their service to our country on Nov. 11 and to the abundance of our harvest on Thanksgiving Day.

I would like to echo those sentiments …

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A month to be thankful for community assets: Susannah Gal

The Sharing Pantry is in the front of the Middletown Police Department.
The Sharing Pantry is in the front of the Middletown Police Department.
Posted

This is a month of giving thanks — to our veterans for their service to our country on Nov. 11 and to the abundance of our harvest on Thanksgiving Day.

I would like to echo those sentiments and add that I’m thankful for our community. I know I’ve said before (and will probably say it again), I love living in Middletown. I wanted to reiterate a few additional things I’ve learned in the last few weeks that add to my love of our community.

On Saturday, Nov. 3, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church hosted a free Community Health Fair. Several local groups had displays about healthy eating and ways to monitor your health, such as blood pressure screening, managing your stress and exercise. I tested my blood pressure and did some international dancing lead by good friends I know through the contra dance group. I heard about ways to manage stress and other healthy attributes from students at Penn State Harrisburg’s kinesiology and human development and family studies programs.

There were also members of the Middletown Borough Council and Human Relations Commission talking about fair housing and resources in our community to support that. I also met a group from Wesley United Methodist Church on Ann Street which sponsors Threads of Hope, which offers free clothing, bedding and towels to families in need. They are happy to accept donations if you have things like this that families could use in our community. There were members from Caring Heart Pet Therapy and the food pantry along with others from our community.

Besides learning about all of these great resources in our community, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church provided and served a free meal (a healthy one, of course) to all participants. The event was a collaboration between Dr. Patty Aguilera’s Human Development and Family Studies class at Penn State Harrisburg and the Communities That Care group lead by my friend Ellen Willenbecher. Dancing, learning and free healthy food — you can’t beat that! Hopefully this group will do a repeat performance again next year!

Another new free gift in the community is a “Little Free Library” outside of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. This is a small little hut that holds books for people to borrow and read, all on the honor system.

Apparently, this was something started in Wisconsin in 2009 by Todd Bol, who wanted to honor his mother’s memory as a school teacher and avid reader. The first one he ever built was shaped like a one-room schoolhouse, complete with a bell-tower.

The Little Free Library organization’s mantra is “Take a book, share a book.” The organization hopes to inspire a love of reading, build community, and foster neighborhood book exchanges around the world.

I saw my first “Little Free Library” hut a couple of years ago when we were traveling in Indiana. There I picked up a wonderful book called “Blush” by Shirley Hershey Showalter about a Mennonite girl from Lancaster County and her exposure to the “outside” world.

While we do have a wonderful public library in Middletown, which is free to residents of the borough, the Little Free Library  we now have in town is open 24/7, and you don’t have to return the books you take.

Another free gift I’m thankful for in our community, which I found kind of by accident on one of my walks recently, was the sharing pantry in front of the Middletown Police Department. This is like the food pantry, although it’s “open” 24/7 and has not only food, but also soaps and other toiletries.

The cabinet that holds the goods says, “Take what you need, give what you can.” On a recent morning, I found several cans of food and some pasta as well as soap, shampoo and toothpaste. This sharing pantry is another lovely way for our community to support one another.

We are also, of course, honoring our veterans this month, those men and women who put their lives in harm’s way to protect our ideals and those of others around the world. My father served in Korea; my husband’s father in the Pacific in World War II. Many, many gave the ultimate sacrifice, leaving lasting impressions on their families and communities.

Some veterans are continuing to give in different ways this year. I heard a story on National Public Radio recently about U. S. Marine Corps veteran Scott Cooper and his initiative for veterans to interact at the community level and bridge political divides. Mr. Cooper described how he planned to post flags at a cemetery with recently resettled refugees in an effort to do some community service with them.

In the interview he stated his concern about our current political differences.

“I look around my communities, though, and I’m hopeful. I see communities that come together, that don’t ask what tribe you belong to but need to get busy knowing your neighbor and helping your neighbor.”

His organization is called “Vets for American Ideals” and hopes that by uniting in community service we can overcome some of the things that divide our country. I think that’s a great inspiration for us all in our region of the world.

So besides thanking our families, friends, and our veterans this season, let’s also thank each other for our wonderful, supportive community. I hope we can continue to make this a welcoming and happy place to live.

Susannah Gal is associate dean of research and outreach and a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg, and is a member of the Press & Journal Editorial Board. She has lived around the world and made Middletown her home in 2015. She can be reached at susannahgal1000@gmail.com.