A lot to be thankful for


POSTED: Thursday, November 26, 2009

Americans learn as schoolchildren about the origins of Thanksgiving, with Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians sharing a feast following the newcomers' first bountiful harvest in 1623. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it a holiday in 1863 during the worst of times, thankful that the Civil War was not as terrible as it could have been.

Likewise, President Barack Obama asks families, friends and neighbors to come together with “;gratitude for all we have received in the past year.”; Amid two wars with no end in sight and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, people can look back to more prosperous times, see a glimpse of better times ahead and, as Americans are known to do best, help their most needy neighbors across the current abyss.

In that spirit, thousands of Hawaii volunteers are working throughout the islands to serve traditional turkey dinners, seeking assurance that the most needy will not go hungry. Nationally, charities are expected to feed 14 million people today.

“;We expect a large crowd because of how the economy is going,”; Hawaii's Salvation Army spokesman Daniel De Castro said.

Of course, such efforts are not confined to Thanksgiving. When needs arise during the rest of the year, people respond. For example, when it seemed that numerous state libraries would close because of budget cuts, Hawaii residents responded with more than $200,000 in contributions to help keep them open.

Although continuing to struggle, Hawaii tourism officials see glimpses of a way out. Americans' Thanksgiving travel sank 25 percent from 2007 to 2008, but was expected to increase by 1.4 percent this year, although airline travel was expected to fall by 6.7 percent, according to an AAA survey.

As the national economy improves, so will Hawaii's economic engine. The recent waiver of visa requirements in South Korea, potentially huge tourism from China and the scheduling of the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economy Cooperation summit in Honolulu are among the positive signs for the future.

The nation continues to try finding its way out of the recession, but advances are possible in the meantime. Progress in eventually lowering the dependence on foreign oil is making important strides. And Congress seems to be close to making the U.S. the planet's last industrial democracy to recognize basic health care as a fundamental right, albeit a uniquely for-profit commodity.

Despite today's economy, citizens of Hawaii and the rest of the country have much to be thankful for, although a lot of that is on the horizon. Good deeds have been integral in the past, are especially important today and will need to extend into the future.