The family whose car was crushed by a tree in the recent windstorm reminds me of a 1948 movie, "The Bicycle Thief."
The film is set in economically ravaged Rome after World War II. A man with a small family finally gets his bicycle out of the pawnshop so he can get a job.
Someone steals the bicycle on his first day at work.
Disaster! He can't work, he can't feed his family, his hopes are dashed. The movie follows his futile search for his bicycle until, in desperation, he steals one.
He is immediately caught and shamed before his son.
That simple bicycle was the key to his life.
When you are poor, the simplest thing can be an insurmountable barrier. A cruel thief, a gust of wind, can take everything away.
It's amazing what can be a barrier. Years ago, arguing for dental care for the poor, the governor's Human Services client advocate observed that "it is very hard to get a job if you have no teeth."
On Thursday, Your Community Connection issued a desperate call for shoes for children. Ask an elementary school teacher how lack of shoes, coats or other winter gear affects the ability of children to learn.
The Catholic Community Services food bank serves 2,000 families a month, but the food bank is in west Ogden. If a single mom struggling to work depends on that food and has a car break down, what does she do?
St. Anne's Center director Jenny Cantor says most of the people who eat her free lunch have homes and jobs, but can't afford food. Wages in this country have not risen, adjusted for inflation, since 2000, and now they're frozen for many in government and industry despite inflation.
Meanwhile, the cost of gasoline has doubled, food prices have soared, everything costs more.
Earlier this year, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that three-fourths of all Americans don't have $2,000 for an emergency, such as a dead car.
That's a lot of vulnerable people.
Americans used to save. Too many got away from that during the housing boom. Now, with wages flat and prices rising, many simply can't save.
The average rent for a family of four along the Wasatch Front is more than $700 a month. Utilities add another $200, food another $400 and gasoline another $100.
Got kids? Day care is $100 a week, minimum, per kid. Add clothing and toiletries, and people making $10 an hour ($1,600 a month before taxes) don't have much left.
Which is why the poor drive clunkers.
The needs are piling up.
I'm doing a "We desperately need help!" story a day from agencies helping the poor at Christmas.
This week, it was the YCC (shoes for children), the Marine Corps Reserve (Toys for Tots) and Catholic Community Services (food and hygiene items). Who will it be tomorrow?
The family whose car was crushed was helped.
A wonderful person swapped a working car for their crushed one. Donated money was converted to gasoline cards. Thank you, all.
Please don't call if you, too, need a car. There are too many of you, and the United Way doesn't have the staff to be a car agency.
However, if someone wants to set up a car exchange for the poor, and do the casework that entails, I'm happy to write about it.
Your best strategy is to help those trying to help: Toys for Tots, Catholic Community Services, the United Way or any of many others.
If nothing else, there's always that Salvation Army guy freezing his butt off, ringing a bell outside the grocery store.
Even a dollar can make a difference.
Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can call him at 801-625-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at www.standard.net.