Times are tough all over. Unemployment is high, and many people around the country are struggling to make ends meet. But despite how bleak things may look for some, what we are now experiencing doesn’t even comeclose to the conditions during the Great Depression of the 1930s. One simple example makes this point vividly clear: bread lines.
In New York’s Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, there is a bronze casting created by sculptor George Segal titled Depression Bread Line, which “depicts five men in shabby trench coats and hats standing in line in front of a brick wall and doorway. . . . The five individuals, hunched over in downcast isolation, await their rations of food, playing out an all-too-familiar scene from the Great Depression” (www.mmoca.org). The scene is described as “both heartbreakingly private and unsentimentally public.”
In 1931, lyricist E. Y. “Yip” Harburg and composer Jay Gorney wrote what is probably the bestknown American song of the Great Depression called “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” Many artists have recorded this song over the years, but perhaps the most well-known version was recorded by Bing Crosby. The song is truly an anthem of the era, as it echoes the probing questions of those whose blood, sweat, and tears built the nation yet found themselves abandoned and desolate, waiting in bread lines:
They used to tell me I was building a dream,For those who lived through this period, a piece of bread often meant the difference between life and death. And while we might not quite be at this stage in America, throughout the country we have homeless shelters and soup kitchens that are full of people living in extreme conditions. While it’s true that some may just be looking for a hand-out, many more are really looking for a hand up—for someone to help them get out of their situation.
with peace and glory ahead; Why should I be
standing in line, just waiting for bread? Once
I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race
against time. Once I built a railroad; now it’s
done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
It makes me think of the many who have lost family, homes, and every material good during the recent string of disastrous tornadoes that ripped across Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. I challenge you to find someone in need and figure out a way to help. No, you don't have to be the only source of help. That's a burden few can bear. But you can be one among many. And even if all you can do is the equivalent of a dime in the 1930s, that's a perfectly acceptable gift to those in dire need.