When In Doubt, Do Something!

Kevin Holsapple/Courtesy photo


The award-winning documentary focused on the life and activism of singer-songwriter Harry Chapin will be screened at SALA Los Alamos Event Center on Thursday, Jan. 19 at 6 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.). Titled, “When in Doubt, Do Something”, the film features Chapin’s music performances as well as his serious activism addressing food security and poverty issues. The film is a special version that features additional concert footage from the original release.  Tickets may be purchased online at sala.losalamos.com or at the door on the night of the screening.

Harry Chapin is one of several singer-songwriters whose performances never fail to affect me. Contemporaries of his like Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Croce, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Carole King, and Arlo Guthrie come to mind but for me, none were better than Harry at using a song to tell a story that stirs my emotions and my soul. I remember the song “Taxi” exuding a mood and feeling that made it the sing-along of choice for my cronies and me back in the day as we drove around backroads in the Midwest. To this day the words and mood are burnt into my memory. “Cats in the Cradle” is another song that always has me wondering how well I have done with the job of being a dad. “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” always puts me in the shoes of a truck driver hopelessly descending a steep grade without brakes. And on and on …

It turns out that Chapin had another side I didn’t know about. He was a tireless advocate for addressing food security and poverty issues who engaged many others to get involved, and “do something”. Harry participated in the creation of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his humanitarian work.  His foundation still works to address these important issues today. Focusing on that part of his story seems like a great reason to look at what is happening in our community with addressing food security and poverty.

LA Cares has served our community for almost 30 years.  It started with a focus on the homeless but quickly transitioned to its current role as our local food pantry.  It is a 501c3 non-profit with a volunteer Board and it is completely volunteer-driven.  I spoke with the current Board President, Lyn Haval who told me about the group and its activities.

“We do food distribution once a month, giving out over $250 worth of groceries and other items to each family,” says Lyn.  “We typically serve 75 families per month with the food distribution.  We also give direct financial assistance to residents of Los Alamos County for rent and/or utilities on a once-per-12-month basis. In 2022 we helped 68 families pay their utility bills with nearly $38,000. We also helped 53 families with rent for a total of around $34,000. We can only do this through generous donations from our community: churches, individuals, organizations, and businesses. We are truly grateful for the support so we can pass it on to those who are in need.”

Lyn told me how community members can help.  “What LA Cares needs is more wonderful support from the community. That can look like cash donations, food donations for various food drives, and volunteers to help carry out our mission. We also need awareness—to spread the word to those who might be able to use our services.”  LA Cares works in conjunction with other social services in town to make sure everyone who needs help can access it.

If you are attending an event at SALA during January, or even if you are just going to be driving by, consider dropping off non-perishable food items in the collection bin that LA Cares will have in the SALA lobby.  

I asked Lyn what she thought would be most surprising to people about food security and poverty in our community.  “Los Alamos County is known for being the richest county in the state and most of the nation. But there are pockets of need throughout the county. There are many senior citizens trying to live on Social Security, families with one income, and people who work in the services industry who make very little, just to name a few, living paycheck-to-paycheck. As inflation rises and rents go up, people are left with less and less discretionary funds—like for food and clothes for a growing family. If you throw in an unexpected catastrophe, like health issues, car or dental emergencies, and they are out of money. We hope we can fill the gap and provide relief in the form of food or rent/utility assistance for those who need it.”

LA Cares’ appreciation for community support shines through as she talks about the organization and its work. “I would like to thank the people of Los Alamos County for their kind and generous support through the years. We are a volunteer organization with a working Board of Directors who participate in every distribution and many additional hours throughout the month. Our main objective is to help those who need it the most. We can only do that because of the generosity of Los Alamos County citizens.” 

Ways to support LA Cares include monetary contributions (checks can be sent to PO Box 248, Los Alamos, NM 87544, (505) 661-8015; canned food donations during food drives (or anytime to the bins at Walkup Aquatic Center, First United Methodist Church, County Social Services Office or this month at SALA).  New volunteers (over 18) are welcome and are encouraged to email lacaresnm@gmail.com.   An LA Cares Board Member will speak briefly preceding the screening of the Harry Chapin documentary and will be on hand in the lobby before the movie to answer questions and provide information.