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Even in this crummy economy, we give

On Friday morning, a half-dozen of us had just put up a tent.

Not a pup tent, mind you, but a heavy-duty canvas deal on a wooden platform that, when we stepped back to view its squared-away profile and taut supporting lines, looked almost as sturdy as a cabin.

I thought about how it will help shelter the thousands of Girl Scouts from Hernando, Pasco and other counties who regularly visit Camp Indian Echo in Hudson. I considered how snug it looked and remembered how many wonderful nights I'd spent in similar tents, at similar camps, when I was a kid.

So, I took a moment to feel impressed with myself. You know, I thought, you really helped out.

On further reflection, though, I was a lot more impressed with the rest of the crew.

All are Publix employees in their teens or early 20s — an age when I would have no more volunteered my time than write an extra research paper for the fun of it. While my employer paid me for my time, theirs didn't.

Best of all, none of them thought it was a big deal.

"If we can't give money, we can contribute this way,'' said Ryan Taylor, 18, a student at Pasco-Hernando Community College.

I don't want to make this sound like a huge sacrifice. The workers who set up tents and cleared trails at Indian Echo were part of the United Way's Day of Caring, which annually recruits volunteers for community projects here and throughout the country.

For about two hours of labor, we were rewarded with a lunch at Carrabba's Italian Grill on State Road 50, and I figured I broke even about halfway through the second helping of chicken marsala.

But I also considered that nobody had to be there and how easy it would have been for the kids from Publix to sleep in or go to the beach.

And if I detected an extra spirit of generosity in the air, I wasn't all wrong, said Kathy Jones, executive director of the Hernando County United Way.

Because of the faltering economy, the agency had scaled back its fundraising goal by $40,000 this year. It has been pleasantly surprised that contributions have nearly held at last year's rate.

Those who can't contribute money are volunteering more time, she said. Friday's Day of Caring, for example, drew 270 workers, 40 more than the year before.

Why? We know people really need help, Jones said. So do the agencies that provide this assistance.

The trip to Carrabba's reminded me of Thanksgiving five years ago, when the economy was humming. A group of homeless residents in Tampa boycotted a traditional turkey dinner because they said they had been promised meals from Carrabba's. They called it a "bait-and-switch,'' and left the impression that we lived in such prosperity that nobody was truly in need.

Now, Hernando's unemployment and home foreclosure rates are the highest in the Tampa Bay area. We all know people who have lost jobs or homes, or live in fear that they will.

That means it's harder for agencies such as the Girl Scouts to raise money, and Indian Echo ranger Debbie D'Elia estimated the Day of Caring had saved it more than $1,000.

Now, of course, putting up those tents really wasn't much of anything.

But it sure felt good to do something.

Even in this crummy economy, we give 10/04/08 [Last modified: Saturday, October 4, 2008 12:53pm]

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