The holidays are a curious time for me. As much as I do love the many traditions—the food, the bulky sweaters and, yes, the music (Mariah Carey’s classic, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is on a constant loop at my house)—there has always been something inherently jarring about the juxtapositions this season magnifies: the gulf between those who have and those who don’t.
Now, as someone who has lived in this country’s most expensive cities (New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, San Francisco), I found that the homeless became but a mere part of the fixture of the urban landscape; a supporting player, if you will. But after years of being a bit proud of my ability to literally ignore human beings in dire need on the streets in front of me (my fellow large-metropolis residents can probably relate), I decided to try a different tack.
Beginning when I was living in LA more than a decade ago, I convinced some of my closest friends to join me in doing the classic good deed on Thanksgiving: donating time at a local shelter. We decided to go to Venice, steps away from the fabled “Muscle Beach,” and when the eight of us descended early Thanksgiving morning, we were ready to work our tails off. And we did: setting up the large hall, cooking in the make-shift kitchen, removing garbage, serving the massive crowd, breaking down the tables—and, well…you know the rest. It felt so good to give back.
Moving to Saratoga Springs a year ago, a lot of things surprised me: how welcoming people have been to me and the many exciting changes we’ve made to saratoga living, how sophisticated our cultural offerings are for a city our size, how thrilling watching a horse race can be as a communal, civic experience. But most shocking of all was the realization of how many homeless people dot Downtown Saratoga Springs’ otherwise bucolic setting. It breaks my heart. And now, it’s winter.
Two remarkable Saratogians are among the heroes actually doing something about it. One, TJ Tracy is still in high school and his successful TJ’s Turkeys charity just commemorated its ten-year anniversary! TJ, who was featured earlier this year in saratoga living as part of our “Saratoga 20,” helps to ensure that kids in need have a hot meal at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The fact that he’s still a kid himself is a testament to his proud powerhouse of a mom, Beverly Tracy. The other outstanding citizen mobilizing on this front graces this issue’s cover, Fingerpaint Founder and Owner, Ed Mitzen. I won’t spoil Kevin Sessums’ must-read feature on Ed, but check out this gifted writer’s take on one of our city’s most philanthropic titans. It’s quite a story.
I learned that just because you can ignore people in need, it doesn’t mean you should. TJ Tracy and Ed Mitzen have known that all along. Finally, I do too.