The needler in the haystack.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Should Plainfield pay to bury homicide victims?

Should the City pay for homicide victims' funerals?

In speaking at the public comments section of Monday's Plainfield City Council meeting, members of the recently formed Plainfield Anti-Violence Coalition touched on a subject to which many of us have probably not given much thought: funeral costs for the families of homicide victims.

The repeated refrain was that these sudden and unexpected costs are a financial and emotional burden to the families that have suffered such a loss, and that the City should "do something".

It came out in the course of the discussion that Union County's resources for victims of violent crimes includes $5,000 for funeral costs. Not good enough, one of the speakers said, when the expense of a repast is taken into account.

As to what other services or resources are available from the City, City Administrator Rick Smiley -- himself a former director of Plainfield Action Services -- said that that agency can provide emergency clothing and food assistance as well as referrals for mental health services for grief counseling, but has no other mandate.

The whole conversation put me in mind of practices I knew of in my youth.

Where I grew up in Western New York, Dunkirk, the city where I went to high school, was heavily populated by immigrants from Italy, Germany and Poland. In those days, Catholic parishes were organized along ethnic lines (St. Mary's was German, Holy Trinity was Italian and St. Hedwig's and St. Hyacinth's were Polish).

One feature of these ethnic communities was their "benefit" or "friendly" societies, which were set up to help with members' unexpected needs, which could include illness, unemployment, assistance for education -- and funeral expenses.

These sorts of groups have a long history in America, and many grew over time into large and important organizations, becoming everything from mutual benefit insurance companies to credit unions, from Odd Fellows lodges to Freemasons, Eagles, Elks and other fraternal organizations.

Have we lost that sort of mutual aid in Plainfield? Or did we never have it in the first place?

To look to government to solve every problem does not seem to me to be the answer -- at least until the community has tried among itself to solve a problem.

I contrast this discussion with another sad local event and the response to it.

The 3-year-old child Elizabeth, who died after being struck by a car at Park Avenue and 2nd Street, left her family in a similar situation -- to face burying a child with no financial resources.

What happened in this case was inspiring.

A woman related to the family through marriage set up an online fundraising page with GoFundMe (you can see the page here) and put the word out into the community, asking for donations.

She set a goal of $10,000. The page was set up on July 27. In 12 days, 125 people donated $6,585, at which point the campaign was ended. Taking into account that one gift was for $1,000 (from a person whose name I did not recognize), most of the donations were modest, averaging less than $45.00 per person.

A simple and dignified service was arranged for the child, with Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church offering use of its sanctuary. A plentiful but simple repast was provided. Folks felt that it all was "meet and right", as Anglicans are wont to say.

Could this be one solution?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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