Giving Spirit Should Last All Year

Giving just seems natural this time of year. Despite all the crowds and the hassles that accompany the holidays, many San Fernando Valley residents manage to find a few extra hours or a few extra dollars to help neighbors for whom the season may not be so merry. From serving dinners at food pantries to dropping off toys at fire stations, thousands of local residents have gone out of their way over the past several weeks to help people they don't even know.

Some local charities report that as much as half of their annual donations are earned between the beginning of November and the end of December. The number of volunteers also spikes during that period. While that spirit of giving is encouraging, it virtually disappears with the New Year. But as Cherie Combs put it: "Hunger doesn't stop Christmas Day. Someone is not less cold on Jan. 5 than they were on Dec. 24."

As executive director of the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, Combs said charities appreciate the extra help and money that pour in during the holidays--but she wishes that spirit would linger throughout the year. Simple things matter. For instance, the center sometimes runs out of peanut butter and jelly to give to clients. A few small jars every now and then can make the difference between a family eating and going hungry. Even easier: The center distributes food in bags, but constantly runs out, so dropping off old grocery bags--preferably with paper inside plastic--saves the center from buying sacks.

At Ray Castellani's Van Nuys-based Frontline Foundation, it takes a constant stream of manpower and food to make the sack lunches that are distributed to homeless men and women on Skid Row. Run on a shoestring, Frontline has fed thousands of people during the past decade. Some months the foundation is forced to cut back on the number it feeds, either because of lack of food or because of lack of help to pack lunches.

Giving just seems natural this time of year, but it could easily feel just as natural in May or June. Poverty in the Valley often goes undetected, in part because of the region's reputation as a suburban paradise and in part because there are few of the distinct boundaries that chop other cities into neighborhoods of rich and poor. But for thousands of families, every day is a struggle to keep the kids fed and the house warm. Never mind the luxuries.

During the past several weeks, many of us have discovered how easy it is to give. We've picked up a couple of extra cans of soup in the grocery store or cleaned the closet of a few old sweaters. Here is a New Year's resolution: Do those sorts of things once a month throughout the coming year. It's easy and it can make a difference.

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