I was going to add a few recipes today that would be a bit different from the all-American July 4th burgers, hot dogs, and mom’s potato salad… but the heaviness of recent news coverage and Meg Muckenhoupt’s mention of the wonderful new Kingston Community Garden made me think twice.

I think that this year, while celebrating our nation’s birthday and the concept of Independence, we should consider what that freedom, independence, and good fortune really means for us. Perhaps we should not only celebrate the holiday, but use it as an opportunity: one to take a moment and reflect on the incredible efforts being made in response to starvation, natural disasters, persecution and the barring of civil rights around the world—and in our own backyard.

Take a minute to read or listen to these clips. Increase awareness: spread the word to friends and families; research actions and ways to help; and join in the international efforts where you can.

The New York TimesDire Situation in Refugee Camp in Somalia

WBUR & NPR – Libyans Still Wary to Speak Against Gadhafi

CNN State Department Report Ranks Countries on Human Trafficking

The Boston GlobeThe Earthquake in Japan

Wall Street Journal More Fukushima Worries: Internal Contamination

The Atlantic – The Country Where Slavery is Still Normal

BBC Syria: ‘Hundreds of thousands’ join Anti-Assad Protests

CNN Rescuing Children from a Trash Dump

The Atlantic – Exiled and 24: The Young Woman Fighting for Bahrain

Paul Farmer – Haiti: After the Earthquake

And then consider local programs like the Kingston Community Garden, Lexington’s Interfaith Garden, and the gardens at the Old South Church, as mentioned by Meg Muckenhoupt. These are just a few examples of the incredible community work and involvement that can make a huge difference on a local level.

Explore a few – and join in when you have a chance in the months ahead (and if you’re part of one that’s looking for volunteers, please feel free to mention it in the comments section below). Boston Cares has an extensive A-Z list of local organizations on their site, but here are a few of the many that we’re fans of: 826 Boston, Camp Harborview, CitySprouts, Earthworks, Haley House, Roxbury Youthworks, Fenway Health, Lovin’ Spoonfuls: A Food Rescue, Women’s Lunch Place, One Home Many Hopes.

This July 4th, with the on-going issues of international and local communities in mind, savor the time with family and friends: enjoy a happy, healthy, feast- and freedom-filled celebration of our country’s Independence Day.