Where I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, on Halloween we didn’t come to the neighbor’s door and say “Trick or Treat.” We might have seen that phrase in writing, but I don’t remember ever saying it aloud.

Instead, we had a phrase of our own that was peculiar and supposedly common only to those in the Detroit area. When any of us arrived at a neighbor’s door, we all shouted at the top of our lungs:

“Help the poor!”

And you could always hear other groups of kids shouting that phrase all around the community into the night.

I don’t know that we thought much about what we were shouting. And soon there was a phrase that helped make our shouts more amusing:

“Help the poor,

My feet are sore,

And I don’t want to

Walk no more!”

Then one word was substituted, and even though it didn’t make sense, it did make us laugh each time:

“Help the poor,

My pants are sore,

And I don’t want to

Walk no more!”

Most of our neighbors put candy in our bags, and some were generous in the amounts and qualities of treats they gave us. But a few others chose to throw some coins into our bags instead. My inkling was not that that these neighbors had forgotten to stock up on candy, but that this was a show of generosity, perhaps also part of the “Help the poor” culture and tradition in our suburban Detroit neighborhoods back then.

At home I would pour out my bag on the kitchen table and organize the candy into groups (in order of priority). But first I would count the coins and see how much money I actually had and could spend or save on my own.

The memory is from long ago, yet every year at about this time I start to hear children’s voices shouting and singing in the dark:

“Help the poor!”

These days I am worrying. Financial crisis, recession, homes lost, threatening to move into a double-dip recession. Bleak outlooks, fear is everywhere. Even charities are reporting serious problems in fundraising.

It was my belief that we could all help those in need through taxes that would sustain human services, especially for those unlikely to get much public sympathy or support such as in areas of poverty. No one would starve to death or have to live on the streets.

Today there are attacks on these social programs – some titled “entitlements” – sold as budget balancing and reducing the size and reach of government. Can’t find a job? That’s your problem. Go to work! Not our problem.

I’m seeing the TV ads warning about proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Not one-half of one percent tax on income after first one million bucks – that’s asking too much for those poor wealthy folks. Police, firefighters and teachers are cited to personalize the issue of jobs being lost. So these are government jobs that would take money away from the wealthiest so that would discourage them from creating their own private sector jobs?

Meanwhile the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.

As I continue to fret over these threats, suddenly there’s a break in the clouds for the sun to shine. I’m watching the local news on WABI, and here is a story about the resurgence of the Belfast Soup Kitchen.

“It’s all about second chances,” says Alex Allmayer-Beck, CEO of the Belfast Soup Kitchen. Not only second chances for those they greet as guests, but for the Belfast Soup Kitchen itself.

“Help the poor!”

If you hear the echo Halloween night – or before or after – you might think of offering a treat that will do just that.

 

Fritz Lyon is a writer in Belfast and has no affiliation with the Belfast Soup Kitchen.