We don't notice the small passings, but it's almost guaranteed we will look around one day and wonder where all of these groups have gone.
The end of an era passed Friday and it did so without much fanfare. But the death of the Friday night pasta dinners, served for 30 years at a local lodge, was bigger than turning off the stoves and folding up the tablecloths.
It signified a societal shift away from the community service organizations that have made our home towns a better place to live for as long as most of us can remember. There are at least a dozen such service organizations that most of us can rattle off without even pausing to think. Elks, Shriners, Moose, Rotary, Professional Business Women, Sons and Daughters of Italy and the list goes on and on, varying from one town or city to the next.
They all rely on volunteers to staff fundraisers, which in turn support members of the community who need extra help.
For most of our country's recent history, those organizations also served as social hubs — places for men and women to have fellowship and fun, to gather and work together toward a common goal. They were a source of pride, with many involving special membership requirements.
And most still exist, but it's a struggle to get new members as old members pass away. And it's a big struggle to get young members — the organization's future — involved at even close to the same level as the members these organizations are losing.
No one is exactly sure why. Is technology keeping people home, allowing them to connect in the cyberworld, thus decreasing their need to connect in the real world? Are we working more? More self-centered? Busier? Less connected to our communities? More mobile?
All of those could be true or none of them. The reasons are probably as unique as each of us are.
But the net loss for society will be large. We can't even measure the impact of all of these groups that labor quietly out of the spotlight.
How many college students got their start from community-group based scholarships? How many charities were able to increase their reach from these groups' donations? How many beaches were cleaner, trees were planted, dinners were served? How many floats rolled through the streets during the hometown parades that remain a popular part of our culture?
As you read this, the local Sons and Daughters of Italy have served their last dinner at their lodge on a small street in Fort Walton Beach. They've washed their last pot, served their last plate of spaghetti, wiped down their last red and white tablecloth. They have graciously, if sadly, accepted that they no longer have the membership to feed the masses, or the masses left to serve.
And most of us won't notice, yet. We don't notice the small passings, but it's almost guaranteed we will look around one day and wonder where all of these groups have gone. And there's no doubt that our towns will be poorer in their absence.
REPRINTED FROM THE NORTHWEST FLORIDA DAILY NEWS