Inklings: Ordinary people make it work
By Janice Lindsay
Eastport, historic fishing village on the Downeast coast, is the country’s easternmost city. Stand on the docks and gaze across an arm of Passamaquoddy Bay to the forested hills of New Brunswick’s Campobello Island.
Perhaps “city” describes its form of government, for Eastport is by no means a “metropolis.” Its year-round population totals a couple of thousand, though it’s a popular destination for summer visitors. Its downtown, whose main street parallels the shore, can be walked, at a comfortable pace, in about ten minutes, past a homey mix of cafes and small shops.
My husband and I visited Eastport on a hiking trip organized by a tour company, staying in a Victorian B&B a couple of blocks from downtown.
After the first day’s walk, our group’s two dozen hikers headed for our scheduled dinner in the vestry of the Episcopal church.
The spicy aroma of lasagna greeted us in the large, bright meeting hall where dinner tables and buffet waited. A cluster of busy women, volunteer cooks and servers, encouraged us to tour their church while they made the final preparations for dinner.
There wasn’t a lot to tour. The church is small, white, simple. Narrow stained glass windows adorn the otherwise austere sanctuary.
But the place was huge with spirit.
A vigorous middle-aged gentleman, Tom, a church volunteer, welcomed us, glowing with obvious pride. He couldn’t wait to tell us about his church, built in 1857, and its grand pipe organ, which is new to the church.
Tom described how church members constantly struggle to raise money, much of which goes to organizations helping the needy in the Eastport area. It was a challenge to find funds for the organ. But enough people donated enough money to enable them to buy one, at a bargain price, on eBay.
Our dinner was a fund-raiser. In order to earn money for their church and community, these dedicated women had organized themselves to provide homemade meals for visitors. It’s hard work, on their own time, but they were relaxed and cheerful, and seemed to be having a wonderful evening. After dinner, each one introduced herself. Each had a story about her involvement in the church and community. For some, it had been a lifelong commitment. Others were transplants, choosing to live in Eastport just because they love it. Their pride, commitment, and affection for each other, and for their town, filled the room.
As I said, the place was huge with spirit.
Back in the 1830s, Frenchman Alexis de Toqueville toured the United States. In his book, “Democracy in America,” he noted that Americans, if they see that something needs to be done, take it upon themselves to gather together and do it. “In no country in the world has the principle of association been more successfully used, or applied to a greater multitude of objects, than in America.”
It’s still true. Americans spend millions of hours volunteering, not for personal gain, but because they see a need and decide to do something about it, with ingenuity and determination. As individuals they don’t get much attention or acclaim, nor do they expect any; in fact, they can find it embarrassing. Sometimes they’re mentioned in local news reports, but otherwise their work can go unheralded, though not unappreciated by the people who benefit.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that volunteers run our communities. The church people in Eastport reminded me of that.
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