Why would they say no? They don’t


There are splashier fundraising events, whose needs, goals, and success — the new Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the new Y, the annual support for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services come to mind — are astounding for the generosity and commitment of donors and organizers. But, there are others, less grand, more intimate, that mark the love and friendship Islanders have for neighbors, for family, and for those whose challenges are great but whose resources are modest.

Times staff writer Steve Myrick documents the giving spirit of this granular variety in a news report this morning [Charity begins in Island homes, but goes beyond]. Mr. Myrick describes the ties that bind Islanders to one another. They live on the same street with someone in need. They work with someone they only know slightly. They’ve heard of someone in dire straits similar to those experienced by a relative of theirs. A family has been dismembered by disease or accident. Health care bills have crippled someone they don’t know but may have read about in the newspaper. No matter how slight the association, the urge to help is a powerful force among members of this insular community. Of course, insular seems the wrong word. We may find ourselves at sea in the geographic sense, but we are shipmates together, and this year’s unnumbered procession of good deeds done makes the point.

Many of these generous occasions have occurred at the Portuguese-American Club, which a headline writer recently called the Island’s “Generosity venue.” Mr. Myrick explained it this morning.

“Patricia Bergeron puts in long hours as president of the P-A Club, after her nursing shifts at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

‘So many times, I ask why am I doing this,’ Ms. Bergeron said of her exhausting schedule. ‘That’s why I do this. This community is so amazing.’

The P-A Club is a popular venue for these events. Ms. Bergeron said the club offers its facilities at no charge.

‘It’s what we do,’ she said. ‘It’s about helping our community. That’s our whole mission. If you’re helping somebody, come on in.'”

And of course, Islanders do just that. Four hundred of them come in and raise $50,000 for a good man afflicted with a persistent cancer. Indeed, Islanders have joined to raise more than $100,000 for people in need this fall. Out of admiration and astonishment, The Times is taking note of this neighbor-to-neighbor generosity this week, but really it’s a common, dependable impulse that springs from full hearts and close ties. It’s a part of the Island environment. As J. B. Blau of Sharky’s and the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company told The Times reporter, “When somebody comes to eat 50 times a year, then all of sudden their brother is sick, why would you say no?”

Islanders and businesses do not say no.

A social scientist might venture a theory to explain the phenomenon, in which people of modest means give all they can to others, who are not necessarily their family or close friends. And, one supposes it would be satisfying to know why it works the way it does, but really this is not a diagnostic moment. It’s a moment — the perfect moment, as Christmas approaches — to admire wholeheartedly the goodness of which people, including especially us, are capable.