Ginger West always identified with the starfish story.
The story goes like this:
Man walking down the beach sees a young boy picking up something and gently tossing it into the ocean. When the man asks what he’s doing, the boy replies that he’s tossing starfish back into the ocean to catch the high tide so they’ll survive.
The man laughs, saying that’s impossible.
“There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish,” the man says. “You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The boy picks up a starfish and tosses it into the ocean. “Made a difference to that one,” the boy says.
Ginger West lived for the starfish.
Ginger couldn’t provide Christmas toys for every poor child in Citrus County, but she tried. She couldn’t bring every homeless couple out of the woods for warm shelter on freezing nights, but she offered. Her efforts to help the worthless feel worthy didn’t reach everyone who needed it, but she never wavered in the mission.
Ginger West, a friend to so many of Citrus County’s down-trodden, died Sunday under the care of Hospice after being recently diagnosed with cancer. She was 77.
For 40 years she was executive director of the Family Resource Center, but that doesn’t come close to describing what she meant to the less fortunate of this community. If you haven’t already, please read both Gerry Mulligan’s column and Nancy Kennedy’s story in Sunday’s Chronicle. They tell the Ginger story so much better than I can.
So I’ll only relate the Ginger I knew.
First off, she was a reporter’s dream. Very accommodating, even during this time of year when her elves are scurrying to wrap Christmas gifts for children of low-income families. I never recall Ginger saying no or putting me off for any interview, though reporters rarely bothered her unless necessary.
Ginger was unapologetic in her advocacy for the disadvantaged and homeless. She battled county government over the types of folks hanging around their old offices at the Historic Hernando School property. Ginger wouldn’t back down, noting these folks were helping, giving back for what they’ve been given.
Where the government saw vagrants, Ginger saw starfish.
But it’s the very cold nights, like Sunday and what is expected for Christmas weekend, that brings Ginger to my mind the most. Homeless see the polar bear flag flapping in the breeze outside the Family Resource Center and knew Ginger would be there that evening with a van to bring them to the cold weather shelter.
I accompanied Ginger on one or two of those trips and that’s a humbling experience in many respects. Ginger was happy to help those who showed up for the van ride, but knew there were many others still in the woods, braving the icy chill rather than trusting what might happen if they venture out, even if it meant a warm bed and hot meal.
I’m sure that bothered Ginger, but she never let it slow her mission to help as many people as possible each day of the year, especially Christmastime and in winter.
Ginger’s wish in her last days was that her granddaughter be relieved of the financial burden of the home’s $23,422 mortgage. Checks payable to the “Ginger West Fund” may be dropped off at the Chronicle, or mailed there to 1624 N. Meadowcrest Blvd., Crystal River FL 34429; or deposited in the Virginia L. West account at any Brannen Bank branch.
This is a huge loss for Citrus County. Passionate advocates for the homeless and marginalized don’t drop out of trees.
So we need to go the way of Ginger’s own thinking. She was of great faith who believed that no matter the challenge, God will provide.
And in Citrus County, God provided a woman who for 40 years strolled our beaches, gently tossing thousands of starfish back into the sea, where they thrive.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.