My mother, a schoolteacher in Mansfield, taught her sons that no matter what your station is in life, no one is too important or too busy to serve.

This holiday season, I’m grateful for that lesson – and for the example set each day by so many in their communities. And I am most heartened by the sacrifices of hardworking Ohioans who struggle to make ends meet yet still make time to give to others.

A couple of years ago, I met an Ohio family who was bagging groceries for neighbors at a local food pantry. While they were long time volunteers at the food pantry, they recently had turned to its services themselves due to job loss. 

It’s that indelible Ohio spirit – the eagerness to give back, to lend a helping hand even when times are hard – that encourages me.

Although Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped below 7 percent last week, there is still much more to be done. Scarcity is a fact of life for too many Americans in urban areas, rural communities, small towns, and big cities alike. Today more than 1.8 million Ohioans live in poverty and nearly one in six Ohioans don’t know where they will get their next meal.

Alleviating hunger in America – including hunger for food, work, and a fair shot at providing for loved ones – requires addressing the shortages many working and middle class families face.

Here’s what we can do: as citizens, we can tutor, spend time with an elderly neighbor, and donate items to local food pantries. We can work to improve economic conditions that keep talented students from receiving a college education. We can also volunteer at community centers, places of worship, schools, and senior homes to make sure our neighbors have enough to eat during the holiday season and throughout the year.

But private citizens shouldn’t have to go it alone. In Washington, we need to address the rising income inequality that has led to a shrinking middle class and slow economic recovery. That comes down to priorities – do we continue to support extra tax breaks for millionaires or do we invest in resources that create jobs and help Americans who are struggling?

Our nation’s prosperity depends on a strong middle class, and the equality of opportunity that allows all people to join the middle class.

Today, more Ohioans are back at work, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do to ensure that every American who wants to work can find a job that allows them to take care of their families.

During this Thanksgiving season, I salute the spirit of volunteerism in our state and encourage all of you to reach out and volunteer. As Thanksgiving and the holiday season approaches, Connie and I are grateful for the Ohioans who spend their time working in food pantries and food banks, and in schools, hospitals, and senior centers. Such citizens are making heroic efforts to fight poverty and hunger.

To our servicemembers returning home for the holidays, and to our troops serving overseas, our thoughts and prayers remain with you and your families.

These selfless Americans, like the family who continued to give back in their hour of need, remind us that across Ohio, there is no deficit of will. It reflects the fundamental character of who we are as Americans, and we affirm it this each holiday season. Women and men in uniform who continue to serve our nation, families who continue to serve meals to our neighbors, and first responders who work to keep our communities safe prove that we have the will.

Connie and I wish all of you a safe Thanksgiving holiday.