“Here is a population, low-class and mostly foreign, hanging always on the verge of starvation and dependent for its opportunities of life upon the whim of men every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave drivers; under such circumstances, immorality is exactly as inevitable, and as prevalent, as it is under the system of chattel slavery.”— Upton Sinclair, The Jungle
You won’t see it in the tourist brochures. You won’t see it as you walk down the boardwalk or stroll the sandy beaches.
It’s the scourge of struggle and it’s endemic to tourist towns.
As my wife Melissa and I finish up a few rest days at the beach in Depoe Bay, Oregon, we happened across a little sign posted in the window of the Chamber of Commerce, “Depoe Bay Food Pantry Drop-Off Site.” Melissa and I decided that we could get some baby foods at a nearby store and make a small contribution.
After entering the small Chamber office, we met Beverly who thanked us for our donation. Striking up a conversation about the food pantry, she described the unemployment situation in this tourist community with a single word,
Paraphrasing, she told us, “The problem is very hidden. Unemployment is very high because we just don’t have any real industry other than fishing so it’s hard to find a job. Most jobs are in the service industry which don’t pay well. Low wages means that there are some very hungry kids out there.”
The center she is talking about is the Neighbors For Kids center at the south end of Depoe Bay, right on the famous Highway 101. The center can be a day-time shelter for up to 60 kids, is run privately with government help and provides some important services for working families. Babysitting is one of the biggest obstacles single mothers must overcome to find work.
Beverly, who is also a 13-year veteran volunteer of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, said the center is staffed primarily by retirees like herself. It’s a labor of love and provides a much needed service as the food pantry provides much needed supplies.
No tourist brochure is going to mention the Neighbors For Kids center in this town of 1200. The Bayside Chapel Food Pantry won’t be listed either. And no hotel pamphlet display will tell you how much your maid brings home or how many children she has.
Tourist towns thrive on tourism, but a lot of the money we spend goes to out-of-town property owners who reinvest little in the community.
We tourists can help, however. The next time you’re traveling consider making a donation in every town you spend the night. For example,
- Look up the local food pantry donation drop-off spots and donate a case of canned goods.
- Tip your hotel maid, and the person organizing the continental breakfast everyday. And more than normal.
- Shop in the locally-owned businesses.
- Make a monetary donation of a few dollars to a local charity in every town you stay in.
Every tourist town has a part of it’s population which is struggling. While it’s probably not to the level of deprevation that Upton Sinclair wrote about in The Jungle (I hope), it’s a still a stark reality.
The next time you travel, consider making a dent in tourism’s scourge of struggle.
Today’s gift of time … Donated a case of baby food to the Depoe Bay Food Pantry. Ironically, and unfortunately, we bought them in a Walmart in nearby Newport. At least the food will stay local.