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A group of fourth graders from PS 151 in Astoria learned a lesson this spring that cannot be found in the standard Department of Education curriculum. It is a lesson that is likely to stay with them long after they forget who won the Battle of Hastings.
Once a week for a month, the students volunteered at the New York School of Urban Ministrys food pantry on 31st Avenue packing more than 600 bags of food for families in need. The kids knew that if it were not for the bags of food that they prepared, families with children just like themselves might very well go hungry. Through their service, they learned compassion and the value of public service.
The food pantries run by organizations such as the Urban Ministry have always been important, but in the year 2003, they are critical. There are hundreds of families in Queens and throughout the city who depend on the schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to their children five days a week. In some cases, these are the most nutritious meals the children will get. When the children are out of school, the need for the pantries becomes all the more urgent.
But we cannot take these pantries for granted. The director of the Urban Ministry said the demand for free food has doubled. At the same time, financial support from foundations is shrinking. He said that twice in the past six months his pantry has had to close its doors.
In the greatest city in the greatest nation in the world, it is unthinkable that children are going to bed hungry. In principle, we support the steps that the federal and city governments have taken to reduce dependency on welfare and government handouts. The reforms have reduced the welfare rolls and have encouraged people to take steps to becoming self-sufficient.
We must continue to move in that direction. At the same time, as a society we must make certain that no one goes hungry.
It would be a shame if the tragic death of Brooklyn Councilman James Davis did not become an opportunity to advance his Stop the Violence campaign. Davis died from the same senseless violence that he had tried so hard to stop, first as a police officer and later as a political leader.
In 1991, Davis founded a nonprofit organization called Love Yourself, Stop the Violence, which sought to halt violent activity at its roots by reaching out to youths in schools and jails and banning the sale of realistic toy guns.
In the precincts of southeast Queens, just as in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood that Davis represented, there are too many guns. There are too many gang members with guns and there are too many kids listening every day to music that romanticizes gun violence. The rapper who calls himself 50 Cent has built his career around the fact that he has been shot numerous times. One of his most popular songs is punctuated by the sound of bullets fired from a semiautomatic pistol.
Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) is right when he says that the killing of Davis should encourage stricter gun control. But sadly, the gun that killed Davis was legally purchased after a background check. While the police and federal agents work to stop illegal gun trafficking, community leaders must fight against the culture that glorifies gun violence.
From now on, no one will enter City Hall without passing through a metal detector and thats how it should be. But there are no metal detectors at the local playground and there is nothing to stop the next nut case or hothead with a gun from shooting your child for some real or imagined offense.
To honor the memory of James Davis, we must pick up the Stop the Violence banner. That means getting the guns off the street and challenging those icons of popular culture who would profit by selling the message of gun violence to impressionable children.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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