To the Editor:

Some years ago, there was a song by Graham Nash -- made famous by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young -- titled "Teach Your Children."

That song came to mind recently when I read 160-plus residents of New Milford had signed and submitted a petition due to their concern for their children.

This petition was not to restore funding to New Milford Public Library, recently beset by drastic budget cuts and layoffs. This petition was not for expanded pre-school or after-school programs, or for increased spending on the arts or other activities for school-age or "at risk" children.

No, this petition was in opposition to an application by Loaves & Fishes Hospitality House to construct a building off Bridge Street-- away from the Village Green -- so Loaves volunteers could continue to prepare, cook and serve hot, nutritious meals for the poor and homeless in the New Milford community, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Reading of this petition, I thought of my own childhood.

Having grown up in New York City, I recall being taken by my parents every Sunday to visit my grandparents in Brooklyn.

Though my grandparents were hardly wealthy (far from it), upon entering their modest apartment, one immediately saw a tin can the size of a large band aid container, into which one would deposit a few coins, or paper currency if one were feeling flush.

This container was to collect alms for the poor in the Jewish community in this country and around the world. The word "Tzedakah" -- meaning charity -- was written in Hebrew letters on the side of the can.

Most of my grandparents' neighbors had similar cans in their apartments. As I recall, all of the shops in their Brooklyn neighborhood had similar cans near the cash register.

My grandfather always put something in the can. When we visited, my mom or dad always deposited something in the can.

Every Christmas -- when my mom took me to see the decorated windows at Saks Fifth Avenue -- we passed a man sitting on the sidewalk at the corner of 48th Street and 5th Avenue with dark sunglasses, white-tipped cane and German Shepherd, and a handwritten sign asking for help for the blind.

Though mom and I had serious questions as to whether this man was indeed blind -- and some question as to how he would use this money -- there was no question he was indeed begging.

Putting our doubts aside, mom invariably left something in his tin can, and never took the offered pencil. When I asked her if this person might have been "faking it," my mom replied he was still in need of help.

Every Thanksgiving -- and often on days in between -- my dad would take my brothers and me to the Salvation Army on West 14th Street, to bring food or clothing for those without.

He would often collect this food from his various clients, who never wondered why their accountant was collecting food for the poor.

These wordless lessons were not lost on my brothers and me. This is who we are. This is what we do. This is what should be done.

I passed these lessons along to my children when I took them to the local homeless shelter to deliver food or to cook and serve meals.

There were places to which I am sure they would have preferred going, where the "patrons" were better dressed and did not smell quite so much.

My thoughts return to the petition signed by the 160-plus residents. Although I do not know their names or backgrounds, I suspect the folks who signed that petition are all good and decent people, some of whom may have volunteered at or donated to Loaves & Fishes.

I also suspect those of the 160 who have children or grandchildren are kind and loving parents or grandparents. I do not imagine for a moment, and do not wish to suggest, they are heartless.

What lesson, I wonder, are these people imparting to their children and grandchildren by their steadfast opposition to Loaves & Fishes?

That the poor and homeless in our community are to be feared or shunned? That the poor or homeless -- most of whom do not drive and do not have cars -- should be offered meals, but only in locations where they will not be seen by the residents of New Milford and to which they cannot possibly walk, such as Faith Church on the border with Brookfield, or on Lanesville Road in New Milford?

What lesson would they impart if -- instead of opposing Loaves & Fishes' new facility -- they supported, donated to or, better yet, volunteered at, same?

What lesson would they impart if they were to bring their children and grandchildren with them?

Graham Nash had it right. Teach your children well. They will remember these lessons and , for good or ill, pass them along.

Neil Silberblatt

New Milford