Nita Johnson

The sudden drop in temperatures over the past few days is a stark reminder that the winter season is not far away.

Although we here in southeast Kentucky have not had the snow storms that I recall from my youth, the cold winter weather is never a welcome entity for most people. Even those shut-ins who don't and can't brave the winter weather still are faced with keeping warm inside their homes - and facing more costly heating bills.

The fall and winter season are reminders of the end-of-the-year holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, and our local organizations who solidify their holiday gift lists for those needy families in the area. Food baskets and Christmas gifts are provided for the many children and families who are faced with inadequate housing, clothing and food. The Laurel County families in this predicament are truly blessed with the multitude of organizations that work together to ensure that every child possible has food and gifts during the season of celebration.

What is concerning, however, are the many working families who scrape by every month of the year -- people who encourage education and good behavior but whose income is just enough to prevent them from receiving any assistance.

These are the people who truly need help. They need decent tires on their vehicle so they can continue to provide for their families. They need a heating system in their cars and trucks that will keep them warm as they brave the elements to arrive at their jobs. They need decent food that they can't afford to buy from their meager income, yet because they work they are not eligible for food stamps.

There are many families in this community who receive well over $700 per month in food stamps - more food than the majority of the working population has in their homes. These same free food families, however, are the ones who receive the holiday food baskets and Christmas gifts that the hard working people of this area are not considered to receive. The same families who are recipients of the freebies of the area also have better medical insurance coverage at lesser costs than the average working families who can't afford to go for doctor visits until it is an absolute emergency because their deductible and co-pay is more than they can spare.

The plight of the working person trying to provide for him/herself and a family has become a near crisis in our society. Yet, all the agencies offering assistance to low income families work through other agencies that only consider the unemployed or non-working families who could improve their situation if they would attempt to get a job. But with government and local organizations offering hand-outs consistently, who can blame them for not wanting to join the work force. They have heat assistance, food assistance, clothing assistance, nearly free medical coverage that includes the dental and vision policies that the employed population pays dearly for but can't afford to use.

What a shame that a country founded on free enterprise and the hope of opportunity has evolved to a society that rewards the uninspired and punishes those who try.

It has long been a dream of mine of establishing a fund to help the working people - the single parents, the people who work for more than minimum wage but who are in the brackets that eliminate them from any assistance - the people who comprise the backbone of this society but who seemingly are punished for trying.

I hope as this holiday season approaches that those people who so generously donate and contribute to the low income families of their community will also remember those who are just above the limits of that bracket - for if we could analyze the costs of the working population in their insurance, payroll taxes, food, shelter and medical costs, there would be a wide range of families that fall below the poverty level that constitutes the guidelines our government declares as low income. With such an effort, these struggling families could enjoy the season and feel that their efforts are appreciated rather than discounted completely.

It wouldn't be a long-term effort to find those families in your own community - just look around at your co-workers and there will undoubtedly be an abundance of those in every work place. Just because those people do not constantly complain or beg doesn't mean there is no need. It simply means they have enough pride and ambition to try to do better.

If your heart is truly burdened to help others, try helping families who try to help themselves. The effort will be deeply appreciated more than given to those who depend on the efforts of others to provide their responsibilities.

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