Hope in a World of Despair

What can one person do?

By Victoria Koch

An ongoing Russia/Ukraine War, a recently begun Israel/Gaza War, another mass shooting in Maine, American democracy being eroded, it has not been “the best of times.” I often wonder, how do we raise ourselves out of the pit of despair? What can one person possibly do to help alleviate all the suffering that surrounds us?

What gives me hope is looking at some of those unknown, everyday individuals right here in our community of Eugene, Oregon, who are touching others and living a loving, compassionate life. 

Vickie is a neighbor and a friend. She lives in a parking lot in one of ShelterCare’s conestoga huts. Due to health and dire circumstances, Vickie is familiar with homelessness and considers herself fortunate to have her “small home.” I am inspired every time I visit her. She lives a simple life with her main motto being “happy, healthy!”  

About a year ago Vickie and some friends started a very small nonprofit called “Helping Homeless.” Over this past year they collected money to create small kits of sanitary and personal items for those living on the street. Just a few months ago, they gathered volunteers and created several hundred of these kits which they distributed to Lane County homeless residents.

Jerry, an old friend from decades ago, rides his bicycle rain or shine daily past my house loaded down with bags of recyclable cans and bottles. Since his retirement as a city bus driver, he has been gathering these items and giving the money to charity. When I last spoke with Jerry, he had added taking appropriate jars to several businesses and grocery stores. He told me he spends a good amount of time thoroughly washing each glass container. He has definitely become a recycle and reuse machine!

Dear friends and decades-long social and political activists, Sue Barnhart and Michael Carrigan, took their despair over our many world wide wars and created their organization Planet vs Pentagon. Currently, they have an ongoing 5 pm Wednesday Peace Vigil at the Old Federal Building (711 E. 7th Avenue.) for an “immediate Middle East ceasefire.” They and others wishing to join them plan to stand with their signs and waving hands until the ceasefire is reached.

Michael is a former decades-long Community Alliance of Lane County community organizer, and Sue is currently the primary organizer, with the help of other volunteers, of Oregon Community Asylum Network (OCAN). OCAN was started by one person, Abby Gershenzon, who, having been a volunteer at the California/Mexican border, witnessed the anguish and poor treatment of asylum seekers legally trying to seek refuge in our country. As a sponsor myself of two Salvadoran asylum seekers, I have watched this organization grow from bringing only a handful of refugees to Eugene to now more than 35 refugees establishing their safer lives here. 

It can be extremely difficult to have hope in a world of despair. But these individual people I have described are only a few of the compassionate souls in our small city, and there are so many more in every other city on our planet. I do not believe it is being pollyannaish to believe that each living human being can make a difference. A kind and grateful word to postal workers, grocery clerks, restaurant servers, etc. can make that person’s day! 

“If I can stop one heart from breaking, 

      I shall not live in vain;

      If I can ease one life the aching,  

      Or cool one pain, 

      Or help one fainting robin

      Unto his nest again,

      I shall not live in vain.”

      — Emily Dickinson

What hopeful actions will you do?

Victoria Koch is a retired teacher, people person and writer who tries to live a loving life. 

Vickie’s Helping Homeless can be reached at HelpingLaneCounty@gmail.com or PO Box 40453 Eugene OR 9740.