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Published August 12. 2011 05:02PM

Recently, a friend of mine returned from a weeklong trip to India and when I asked how much of a cultural shock it was, his answer was not that surprising for persons who have visited outside American borders.

He said if I ever hear him complain about the living conditions in America to please let him know. The reaction is typical enough for those who have tasted lifestyles abroad. As flawed as our elected officials might be, they are operating under the best government system in the world.

Even when their personal budgets are stretched to the limit, Americans are the most benevolent people in the world. In the event of global emergencies, our nation is typically the first responder. An example is the most current flash point - East Africa - where more than 12 million people are in need of food aid and life-saving care because of the severe drought. Nearly three million of them are in need of immediate lifesaving assistance, including more than 450,000 in Somalia's famine zones.

The most desperate photos we see often involve children. The United States estimates that more than 29,000 Somali children under age 5 have died in the famine in the last three months.

In a speech Thursday to the International Food Research Institute, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated the case in stark terms: "Every minute people - mostly women and children - are dying. Time is not on our side. We must respond."

The U.S. - as usual - has been the largest single contributor to African relief this year, with donations of humanitarian assistance totaling more than $580 million. The aid has helped more than 4.6 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya but as Clinton pointed out, we not only need to address the immediate famine, but develop a long-range strategy to break the cycle of chronic food shortages.

That long-term strategy can involve our children. It's never too early to introduce them a basic lesson in humanity - helping those who are less fortunate.

There are many opportunities to practice this charity - both at home and abroad - by giving through various international aid organizations, a church benevolence ministry, or local food pantries. Persons visiting the Operation Christmas Child booth at the Carbon County Fair can learn how a shoe box of gifts such as small toys, gloves, crayons, school supplies, necessity items and even notes of encouragement can bring a smile to children who are suffering due to natural disaster, disease, war, terrorism, famine and poverty. These simple items, which most American children take for granted, are treasured by the youngsters who receive the gift boxes.

Last year, persons visiting county fairs in the U.S. packed 385 shoe box gifts; this year's goal is 500 boxes.

Recently, Operation Christmas Child volunteer and local resident Kyle Dempsey traveled with Operation Christmas Child to Honduras to help distribute the shoe box gifts to children in need. The area coordinator, who has been packing shoe box gifts for seven years, is amazed at the joy it brings not only to the recipients, but to the local children who prepare them.

"There are so many hurting children in this world, in situations that they can't control, that need to know there is someone who loves them and cares about them," Dempsey said. "Packing a shoe box gift is a practical way to show them that."

By Jim Zbick

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