Northumberland's generous spirit awakened by tsunami

First published: January 16, 2005

When Kroum and Eva Pindoff, founders of Music World, made a $5 million donation to the Canadian Red Cross, it was stunning. Not only was it the largest personal donation ever received for a disaster appeal, but also it was one of the biggest individual donations toward the tsunami relief efforts in aid of the Asian countries hard hit by the horrific disaster.
Certainly the amount given was truly generous, but when the 89-year-old Pindoff was talking to the press beside he wife, he began sobbing. He said the donation was to ease his own mind because he could not sleep with the distressing images of the devastation dancing in his head. As his voice cracked with emotion and the tears flowed, he cried out to everyone who would listen: we must help those who suffer.

This generosity is being mirrored locally. The compassion expressed by residents in Northumberland County toward people in South Asia hammered by the terrible tsunami on Boxing Day is equally stunning as the Red Cross reported earlier this week that residents have pledged $102,959 with many groups and individuals continuing to raise more. District manager David Webster described the efforts as awe inspiring,

Each day stories pour in about the incredible giving, coming from every walk of life within our community. Last Friday, the Cobourg Rotary Club raised more than $25,000 with a special appeal in a single meeting. School children empty piggy banks to help. Concerts and other events are hastily organized. Businesses reach out by handing over proceeds of sales and by providing customers with an easy way to give money by accepting donations. The list grows daily.

But what is it that motivates these people?

No doubt part of it lies in the monumental scope of the disaster. With 150,000 dead and the number rising in the 11 countries most affected, it is hard to imagine the tragedy. It would be comparable to wiping out the entire population of Northumberland County – twice! Hundreds of thousands of people are left homeless.

If these figures do not stir any emotion, it may be the impact on our own country. So far, six are dead. 285 unaccounted for, 37 Canadians missing.

Those who are more cynical might suggest it is the bandwagon effect. As more people in the county donate money, others do not wish to be left behind. For some, it is a friendly challenge to match donations. Still others, it is a feeling of not being left behind or competition as other service clubs, municipalities, schools and organizations announce their plans.

Other pessimists might challenge people’s sincerity and commitment. Sure, there is money for this disaster, but what about other relief efforts. Who remembers Hurricane Mitch in October 1998, which tore through Central America with its 180 mph winds causing 10,000 deaths? Then, there was the earthquake in Bam, Iran in December 2003, where more than 100,000 people suffered. And then there are the ongoing crises like the five million people who have died from AIDS in South Africa, about 200,000 per year. There are many efforts to raise money and governments pledged money at the height of those tragedies, but now these are forgotten.

Even more saddening are those who cry out: what about helping those in our community before helping those overseas. Or those who argue it is all the media exposure. And on and on.

While there may be a grain of truth in these observations, what goes on in Northumberland County may also be something deeper. One only needs to look at the United Way campaign or the funds collected for the Colborne family who lost their home only days before Christmas to see recent evidence of the community’s kindness. And there are also those local families and churches who are working to revitalize Cobourg’s relationship with Mzuzu, Malawi, which ended in 1999 after running for nearly eight years under the auspices of town council.

Like Mr. Pindoff, residents of Northumberland County are compassionate people. We recognize suffering, just like he does. And we respond.

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