This morning I was skimming The New York Times Neediest Case Fund article. Since 1912, the paper has run articles about city residents in dire straights, which are designed to move people to donate to a charitable fund.
Way back in the day, when I was a youngin' and copy girl at the NYT, I was assigned to write Neediest Case Fund stories. As I recall, you didn't get a byline back then, but you did get to publish in the paper, between refilling the editor's inboxes with copy paper (getting a sense of how long ago this was, yet?) and fetching tickets for the arts editors.
Anyway, I was assigned one of these meant-to-be heart rending pieces and I have a vague memory that my lead was actually something as terrible as "Mary H. won't have a turkey this Thanksgiving, but thanks to the Neediest Case Fund..."
What I remember with great clarity, however, is the photographer who was assigned to cover the story with me. He was Dith Pran. Dith Pran was not only a photojournalist, but also a survivor of the murderous regime of Khmer Rouge-era Cambodia. He barely escaped the genocide and his life was depicted in the movie "The Killing Fields." He was a small, slender man, delightful to work with, but he was thoroughly unimpressed with the Times "neediest case" that day. The woman had an apartment, running hot and cold water, a television set and relatively good health. After what this photographer had seen, she had it pretty good.
My point is not to minimize that woman's plight - I'm sure it was rough - but simply to say that need is relative. And to remember Dith Pran, who witnessed and recorded unspeakable images. He died a few years ago of pancreatic cancer. I think of him every time I read another "neediest case."