Sometimes, it takes a fire

It's funny what it takes to capture someone's attention. I have driven down Broad Street in Norwich countless times and might notice a house only after it's been freshly painted (I can never remember what color it used to be). I can hear the same song over and over but not hear the lyrics until they're sung with new accompaniment; and I can see the same picture hanging on the wall at work every day but not really notice it was ever there until it's not there anymore.

That seems to be the case with most things. To coin the old cliché, you don't know what you got until it's gone. Unfortunately – and this can be said for most people – it takes something drastic to grab someone’s attention, to make them notice that something important is really there.

Same can be said of Toys for Tots. For anyone not aware by now (though I'm not sure if that’s possible), Chenango County Toys for Tots has had a pretty good week – that is, after its stock of toys was ruined in a fire last Friday, during the unofficial start of the Christmas gift shopping season. If ever there's a good example of bad timing, I think that's it.

Toys for Tots says roughly $5,000 to $8,000 of merchandise was lost in the fire that ripped through a 40-unit storage facility at The Storage Center, LLC in Norwich (not to overshadow the irreplaceable items lost by some individuals who rented other storage units). Since then, various community campaigns in support of Toys for Tots have helped raise thousands in private donations from businesses and individuals from all over the area and beyond. To date, the organization has been given enough to replace all that was lost in the fire, and then some.

Which brings me to my point. Toys for Tots has been organized in the Norwich area for decades. The organization itself has been in existence for more than half a century. With such a longstanding charitable institution in our own backyard for such a long time, why did it take a fire for so many, myself included, to donate for the first time? Why are there instances in our everyday lives when we see people who genuinely need help but no one steps up to help them unless something drastic has happened? No doubt, there are some people who donate to Toys for Tots year after year, but it was the fire that really got encouraged locals to give what they could.

What was clear after last week’s fire is that people routinely wait until a crisis is urgent enough to jump into action. While Toys for Tots asks for help every holiday season, the year they received the most help is the year they needed it most (not a bad thing at all... but wouldn’t it be great if people were that eager to help year round?).

It's a saying we've all heard before: it takes a tragedy for people to come together. And that's certainly the trend we see after large-scale disasters like the Boston Marathon bombing in April, for example, or the more recent typhoon the swept over the Philippines last month. So it comes as no surprise that although it’s not a tragedy of the same magnitude, Toys for Tots has received the local support needed to pull through. It just took fire and an incredible loss to get to that point. Like I said, it's funny what it takes to capture our attention.

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