Times are tough, and everyone is cutting back. As costs rise and incomes shrink, people are weighing what to do without. And where not to spend money.
In doing this hard math, don't forget the neediest. Charities that rely on private donations need that aid more than ever this year. More people are out of work, more people are hungry and more people are turning to charities for a little bit of help this holiday season.
Charities are hearing from people who have never needed their help before: the newly laid off, intact families, folks down on their luck in a down economy. With the unemployment rate in the Tampa Bay area at 7.4 percent, many who have relied on family in the past can't do so now because the relatives themselves are hurting.
The newly poor need more than food. They need assistance with the rent, with medicine, with the electric bill and the water bill. The lines of the needy are literally out the door and down the street.
To do more, charities cannot make do with less. They need donations — more than ever.
The Salvation Army in St. Petersburg is a case in point. More than 300 people applied for 53 spots as bell ringers by the red kettles, a job that pays $7 an hour. The Army expects to help nearly 1,200 families this Christmas, 40 percent more than last year.
The St. Petersburg Free Clinic is serving so many people who need food every day that it has been unable to stock up for the holiday demand to come. The situation is similar at St. Vincent de Paul.
At Tampa's Metropolitan Ministries, demand for services is up 20 percent but donations are down by the same amount. That group is helping 5,000 new families this year — people who have never asked for its help before. Last year, one mother brought her children to the Ministries to show them the importance of giving. This week, she came back in tears because now it is her family that needs help this season.
Nationally, the Agriculture Department says in a new report, 12 percent of Americans struggled to feed themselves last year — and that was before the economy's recent big dive. About 690,000 children went hungry sometime last year in America.
So when thinking of where to cut, try to spare charitable giving. Those organizations need our help to help our neighbors more than we need those dollars for something else.