'Tis the season for grace and charity, even in a Grinch economy

From Palm Desert, Calif., to Boise, Idaho, people go to extra lengths to help the needy this holiday season. 'The harder things get, people are more generous,' says one charity organizer.

By , Staff writer

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    Salvation Army bell-ringer Margaret Carpin stands outside a major department store seeking donations at Tyson's Corner in McLean, Virginia, Wednesday.
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    Brad Schofro, center, helps fill boxes with food during the 14th Annual Roosters Holiday Food Drive in Irvine, California, on Sunday.
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    Low income families receive turkeys donated by Fresh Direct at the Bread of Life Food Pantry in Long Island City in the borough of Queens in New York, on Wednesday.
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Despite a year of economic turmoil, or perhaps because of it, the light of kindness and charity is shining brightly across America this holiday season.

Office workers are helping school children from low-income communities. School kids are providing care packages for soldiers overseas. As Americans stretch to help people beyond thier families and friends, the desire to give often takes form through spontaneous action. Some of the efforts have grown using online networking tools such as Twitter or Facebook. Here are a few of the examples that have cropped up in news reports across the country in recent days:

• Five moms near Palm Desert, Calif, decided to take action when they read a newspaper story about how many students at one nearby elementary school were poor and lacked good shoes. They created a group called Hearts 4 Soles and provided new shoes and socks for all 94 kindergartners at the school, the Desert Sun paper reports.

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• Teens at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Florida's Broward County organized 36 holiday boxes of goods to send to graduates of their school now serving the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Miami Herald reported. The recipients can share the food, books, music discs, and other items with fellow service members.

• Workers at a Boise, Idaho, insurance company also reached out to help low-income school children this year just like the California moms did. The insurance team decided to cancel its office party and put the money toward buying books and other items for the kids, according to the Idaho Statesman. To broaden the effort, they parked a truck outside a Kmart and enlisted shoppers to donate new items such as clothing and toothpaste to the cause.

• In Sussex, Wis., community members donated nearly $3,000 to help provide Christmas meals for individuals in need. It's symbolic of actions occurring across the nation as food pantries see rising demand.

"It seems like the harder things get, people are more generous," said John Haunfelder, a Sussex Lions Club member who helped raise the money on a recent Saturday. "It really brought on a warm feeling," he told the Sussex Sun.

The tough economy means that many charitable organizations are seeing a decline in donations, but others report increased giving at a time of increased need.

Charity workers say the demand for assistance won't end with the holidays.

A recent Agriculture Department report estimated that 17 million households, or 1 in every 7, were "food insecure" in 2008, meaning they lacked resources for adequate food for at least part of the year. Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, says the problem has grown significantly this year, since that survey was done.

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See also:

The Monitor's Guide to Giving

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