Saturday, February 21, 2009

February's Charity

When my maternal grandmother was 14, she contracted the polio virus. One day, she was winning hopscotch tournaments and being the one of the best jump ropers (specifically double dutch) in her area, and the next, she was bed-ridden. She was taken to the hospital like all of the other sufferers of polio, and because my mother's side of the family were and are mostly poor, rural folks, the March of Dimes stepped in and paid the bill. The March of Dimes also paid for my great-grandparents to travel to the hospital and see their daughter. Eventually, my grandmother got well enough to go home, go to work, get married to a man who had lost his left arm at birth, and have two children, but never well enough to walk again, or play hopscotch or double dutch. 

The March of Dimes has an odd story; founded by Franklin Roosevelt to find a cure for polio, it was headed by his legal advisor Basil O'Connor, who agreed to be its treasurer not because he had any pressing wish to cure polio but because he was so loyal to Roosevelt. It became the March of Dimes during the depression years by asking the general population to send in a dime to the charity; the thinking was that even during hard economic times, everyone could spare a dime (which was also probably the thinking behind the song, "Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime"). And the people did, partially because most could find a way to spare a dime and partially because the specter of polio loomed so large nearly everyone feared getting it and nearly everyone wanted to find a way to ensure not to. It was a rousing success, and it led to - along with Jonas Salk's vision and Basil O'Connor's impatience - a vaccine. From that point forward, March of Dimes shifted from being about curing polio to preventing premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality.

Today is my grandmother's birthday; her favorite charity is the March of Dimes, for obvious reasons. And even though we bought her earrings and some cupcakes and we brought her balloons and flowers, I thought that her favorite charity and the one she has been giving to her entire life could be this month's charity for me as well, as my way of continuing to fulfill #5 on my New Year's Resolution list.

1 comment:

MediaMaven said...

That's a really nice story. My mom is a big fan of the March of Dimes, too.

The March of Dimes is also responsible for ensuring that newborns are routinely screened for genetic disorders.