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In tough times, remember those in need

Posted: November 15, 2011 10:23 a.m.
Updated: November 16, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Even in the best of times, it’s important for those of us having enough to meet our own needs to share our material blessings with those who don’t. 

I probably don’t have to tell you that these aren’t the best of times. We’re facing the worst economic crisis of a generation, and government’s long-standing tradition of simply increasing spending has even prolonged the nation's unemployment problems … which means many people here in South Carolina and across the nation face the prospect of doing without this Thanksgiving and Christmas season.

The holidays typically see an upswing in charitable giving.  It's not that there are fewer people needing assistance during other times of the year; it's that the spirit of the holidays moves people to dig a little deeper and give a little more. But tough times such as these can produce a drop in donations, as people worry about their own financial prospects.

When that occurs, charities such as food pantries struggle to keep their shelves stocked, while at the same time they experience an increase in requests for help.

But even amid anxiety about our own financial future, we’d do well to remember the plight of those barely making it. Here are four ways every South Carolinian can help:

• Perhaps most importantly, we can donate money to a worthwhile charity that serves those facing financial hardship. One easy way to help is to drop a couple of bucks in the red kettle. The Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign, with its storefront bell ringers and familiar red kettles, have become a part of Christmas tradition and one of the world's most recognized charity fundraisers. Importantly, the Salvation Army estimates that 83 cents of each dollar donated goes to directly benefit someone in need.

• If you can’t contribute financially, lend a hand at a local charity. Volunteering your time and effort frees up money so that charities can direct resources where they are needed most.

• Search your home for surplus items -- such as clothing, school supplies and non-perishable food items -- to donate to a local charity. There’s always a need for diapers and personal hygiene items such as soap and toothpaste.

• Organize a canned food drive at your office, church, school or recreation center. Challenge other groups to do the same, and compete to see who can collect the most. My office is currently planning one such food drive. This is a fun, productive way to help those in need.

Yes, times are tough all around. In one way or another, we’ve all been touched by the economic downturn. But while you may be feeling pinched right now, there are many people in far worse circumstances.

This holiday season -- and, indeed, all year round -- we’d do well to remember those in need.

Besides, our own quality of life is interwoven with those around us. So in a sense when you help your neighbors, you help yourself. By sharing our material blessings with those who need help just to get by, we’re helping improve our entire community, and in a small but very real way, helping to strengthen our nation and right this ship.

(Richard Eckstrom is state comptroller for South Carolina.)



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