CHARITY WATCH : Readers Do Care

There's a lot of talk these days about "compassion fatigue," suggesting a kind of hardening of the heart among people whose sympathies are in danger of being numbed by multiplying examples of human misfortune. No doubt it exists. But there's no doubt, either, that humanitarian empathy is still a powerful impulse in our lives. There's a grateful family in Ventura County today that can attest to that.

On our Op-Ed page two weeks ago appeared a piece--"Down and Out in the Suburbs, With Dread in My Bones"--by an unemployed married mother, who for understandable reasons chose not to have her name published. It was an angry and passionate piece, describing how a middle-class couple found themselves unemployed and living below the poverty line. "I was not prepared at all for the violent, demoralizing effect of poverty. I had no idea how it would feel to have no food in the house, no money to buy gas and no prospect of money."

Neither was the writer prepared for the response that would come from Times readers. She made no appeal in her article for help, but help nonetheless has been offered, spontaneously and generously: so far, more than $5,100 in cash and checks sent to The Times for the author and her family; gift certificates for food and toys; and perhaps most important of all, several opportunities for jobs.

The writer is grateful, of course, not least for the letters she has received from others who have been where she is. That kind of support, she says, helps enormously "to make it all less humiliating."

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