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Our Views: Open hearts and wallets
A season of giving, not spending, looms so lets reset priorities in todays tough economy
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Giving for the holidays

Here are some agencies that would welcome your generous donations this holiday season:

United Way of Hall County, 527 Oak St., Gainesville, GA 30501, 770-536-1121. Included on the Web site are a list of drop-off locations for Toys for Tots donations.

Empty Stocking Fund

Georgia Mountain Food Bank, 615F Oak St, Suite 1300, Gainesville, GA 30501, 770-535-7880

Toys for Tots

Salvation Army of Gainesville, 711 Dorsey St., Gainesville, GA 30501, 770-534-7589

FrumUs, collective gift giving

Secret Santa program

Elfster, secret Santa giving program 

Food drives
Memorial Park Funeral Homes and Cemeteries, canned goods, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through Dec. 15, 2030 Memorial Park Road, 989 Riverside Drive and 4121 Falcon Parkway.

Hall County Fire Services, canned goods through Dec. 15, all area fire stations. Donations go to the Chattahoochee Baptist Good Samaritan Food Bank.

Every Christmas movie and kids' special we grew up with offered a common message to a generation increasingly spoiled by Santa Claus' largesse.

Whether it was the epiphany of the Grinch, Charlie Brown learning the true meaning of Christmas or George Bailey of "It's a Wonderful Life" basking in his neighbors' generosity, the moral is that the holiday season is about more than buying and giving gifts and running up debt on our credit cards.

This year, expect life to imitate art. The nation's sagging economy figures to make this a lean holiday for many. With many Georgians facing job losses or struggling to pay their mortgages and other debts, it's going to be harder to pile up as much under the tree.

Retailers already expect Santa's sleigh to be a little bit lighter. As the big post-Thanksgiving shopping spree got under way Friday, many expected a Christmas season less jolly at the cash registers. As a result, the trickle-down effect of our economic woes may snowball. Retail stores that don't hit it big at Christmas may have to resort to job cuts and other cutbacks.

On the other side of the holiday coin, Americans' usual giving spirit may be stifled this year by the slumping economy. More charitable agencies, shelters and food banks are finding that demand for services is going up with more Americans losing their jobs and homes.

Thursday's annual Thanksgiving dinner at Good News at Noon drew a record crowd of hungry souls, a trend reported from other similar offerings.

All these bad tidings are enough to bring out the Scrooge in everyone. Yet this confluence of holiday austerity offers us an opportunity to put the giving spirit of the holiday ahead of the commercialism that we so often lament. Instead of spending money we don't have this holiday, we have a chance to provide assistance to our neighbors who are in dire circumstances and brighten their holidays.

In our community, supply has been able to meet increased demand so far. The Georgia Mountain Food Bank has been able to keep pantry shelves stocked at area agencies, helped by a big donation from several sources last week.

"That's going to make a big impact for local agencies," Food Bank Project Coordinator Kay Blackstock said. "These agencies are seeing their orders double and triple. There's so many more people in need right now."

And remember, the advent of the holidays also means that the cold winter is nearly here, so many without jobs or homes have it even tougher.

"We're doing about 33.5 percent more this year than at this time last year," said Mike Walston, director of the Chattahoochee Baptist Good Samaritan Food Bank. "We're OK right now, we really are. There's a great response right now."

Other charitable agencies have experienced the same level of giving to help supplement their needs. The United Way of Hall County is on track to earn its annual campaign fundraising goal of $2 million, with more than 60 percent already provided through corporate and individual donations.

"The economy has impacted all of us, but I'm pleasantly surprised to see how giving this community is," said Darrell Snyder, chairman of the United Way of Hall County's annual fundraising campaign. "Despite tough economic times, we've had several companies (participate) for the first time this year. We have also seen some companies that have been participating for years raise their giving level. We are just extremely pleased with the progress that we have made."

Donations to The United Way help many organizations that provide for general support and specific needs. As they receive more requests for help from those in the area who are struggling, it is more important than ever they can meet those needs.

We've said it before, but this level of giving bears it out: The residents of Northeast Georgia have hearts even bigger than their wallets. That's why they continue to offer help even in tough times.

Another way to turn our commercial dollars into help for the needy is through Secret Santa and other programs designed to target families who need help providing for their children during the holidays. Several Web sites have emerged that help link donors with those who need help. Such donations are a good way for individuals and businesses to channel their resources to where they are most appreciated.

Instead of drawing names in the office to buy token gifts or holding expensive parties, why not set up a program to help local families fill their table and stockings instead?

Even with the economy in the dumps, perhaps for some time to come, we can take heart this holiday in knowing that more of us are putting their money where it is needed most, not just in the malls and shops but in the agencies geared toward helping others. That's the true message of the season, one we can live as well as preach this year.

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