Giving, even when times are tight

Published 8:21 pm Saturday, October 18, 2008

Perhaps never in the memories of most living Americans has the old saying, “Times are tough all over,” rung more true. People have watched the values of their homes fall for more than a year, and for the past couple of weeks, especially, they’ve seen the value of their stocks and retirement plans crash right along with the stock market.

Though they’ve retreated significantly in recent weeks, high gas prices took huge bites out of the average American’s paycheck this year, prompting a surge in sales of tiny electric cars and a glut of new and used gas-guzzling behemoths waiting for buyers.

Retail sales fell slightly in their last accounting, and low consumer confidence has executives worried about even leaner times this Christmas. With tighter credit and high levels of uncertainty, polls show, the average American doesn’t expect this to be a bountiful holiday season.

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Charitable organizations know this calculus all too well. Americans are famously generous, but they can’t be blamed if they also have a tendency to look after themselves before they start throwing money around for other causes. In lean times — the times when the work of charitable organizations is most needed — those groups often find that donations begin to dry up.

Officials with the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia have watched the economy this year wreak havoc on both sides of their nonprofit business. More people have needed the group’s services, while fewer people are donating, and they’re giving less when they do.

Saturday’s food drive in support of the organization, led by the Girl Scout Council of Colonial Coast, was an excellent example of one community group standing up to help another in these tough times, and it couldn’t have been a more felicitous intervention. The Food Bank’s cupboards are almost bare, one official said, and winter is almost upon us.

Hampton Roads owes the Girl Scouts — and those who supported Saturday’s food drive — a debt of gratitude for remembering that, while times are tough all over, some people have it especially bad right now and need our help, even if it requires a bit of a sacrifice.