Homer’s spirit of giving pulls residents together in unique, powerful way

M

y husband and I moved to Homer a year ago. The breathtaking (almost literally) beauty, clean air, and laid-back atmosphere enticed us, and as we’ve become more involved in the community we’ve been especially impressed by the level of support for nonprofits and how Homerites rally around almost anyone in need. Nearly everyone we know is involved with some sort of nonprofit or volunteer activity. 

I realized last December just how invested the community is. I read an article that said Share the Spirit, with only a couple of weeks left until Christmas, was low on donations and still had a lot of requests left on the giving trees. I don’t remember the exact number, but I do remember thinking there were so many that it seemed impossible that they would all be filled in time. The organizers were concerned that some children would get the presents they requested and others in the same family wouldn’t, or there wouldn’t be enough money to fill all the food baskets. 

The next morning we set out to find the trees and buy presents, but all the trees had been stripped bare. All the requests had been filled. We were stunned. It was less than 24 hours after the article was published. So we made a monetary donation, and when it was time to sort the gifts and pack the food boxes we went to the high school to help. 

Again, we were stunned. The gym was piled all the way around with presents and food boxes, with two or three more rows down the middle, and the halls were lined with more. Pickups pulling trailers and SUVs loaded to the gills pulled up to the loading docks and dropped off even more. We moved here from Denver, a city with a million people, and I’d be surprised if the many organizations that help the homeless received this much help in total. 

I’ve seen posts on the classified Facebook pages asking for help — mostly for other people — and it doesn’t take long to get it or for someone to ask what else is needed. The walls of the Back Room Gallery at Ptarmigan Arts are currently lined with art that represents thousands of donated hours for their visual-arts scholarship fundraiser. I’ve attended quite a few events that raise funds for any number of organizations, and the events themselves seem to foster a sense of purpose, camaraderie and genuine pleasure in helping, whether it’s for the environment, the people or the shelter that needs funds for homeless animals. 

The act of giving, in Homer, seems to bring as much joy to the people who contribute as the people and organizations that benefit from it. Everybody pitches in, and I’ve noticed that even those who could use a little help themselves find some way to give, be it with time, knowledge or resources. The community pulls together in a way that I’ve never experienced outside.

Like most Alaskans (and even though I’ve only been here a year, I think I’m an Alaskan), I’ve been asked such things as, “Do I need a passport to go there?” I remind them that it’s part of the United States. And it is, but I’m increasingly aware that it isn’t, too. 

Alaskans are especially hardy. They’re independent and self-sufficient and don’t focus quite as hard on the outrages, both real and manufactured, that consume the Lower 48. We’re not completely out of touch with that, but there seems to be the understanding in Homer that we’re all in this together, and instead of railing against the world we’ll make ours work. 

It’s almost literally breathtaking, and we’re unbelievably happy to be a part of it.

Debbie Fanatia is a professional gardener, photographer, editor, and member of Ptarmigan Arts gallery. 

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