The mathematics of an economic downturn are both simple and brutal. More people need more help as hard times stretch on, and fewer of their fellows can afford to provide it. The food banks begin to run low, but hunger rages on, an equation true for all the agencies on Long Island that strive to help so many people. That's why we have to ask ourselves: Times are bad, but are they bad for us?

Unemployment (and underemployment) is high, but if earners in your family are still fully employed, this is the time to give. The upheaval in the housing market has all but destroyed many families' finances, but if you still have a secure home you can afford, this is the year to give. Heating oil and utility prices are high and many face an uncomfortably, or even dangerously, cold winter, but if you can pay to keep your home cozy, this is the year to give.

For 60 years, the Newsday Charities Help-A-Family campaign has provided Long Islanders with aid in filling a wide range of needs, and it has done so in a way that leverages contributions tremendously. Because donations are matched 50 cents on every dollar by the McCormick Foundation and because that foundation and Newsday pay for all administrative costs associated with the drive, every dollar donated results in $1.50 being deployed to better the lives of the less fortunate.

Last year 41 nonprofit agencies received grants totaling $1.2 million. Child Abuse Prevention Services, fighting to protect kids from violence, was one. The Interfaith Nutrition Network, operating a crisis housing program, was another. Island Harvest Ltd. received a grant that allowed it to stuff the backpacks of poor children with food for weekends, because, other than the free lunches and breakfast they receive at school, these kids have no reliable source of meals.

There is immediate need. Children are hungry and battered. Families have nowhere to lay their heads. People are cold, dejected and desperate, and Help-A-Family addresses these necessities. Donations are forwarded to Family and Children's Association of Mineola to help clients pay for food, heat and shelter. The Society of St. Vincent DePaul helps with auto repairs, medical equipment or housing subsidies in emergencies.

Longer-term projects also get funding, via agencies that strive to address the core issues behind poverty. Kids learn to read and are given after-school homework help via the Tri-Community and Youth Agency in Huntington. Young adults are trained to enter the workforce by West Islip Youth Enrichment Services.

If you can't imagine your family ever needing this kind of help, that's one reason to give. If you can easily imagine your family needing this kind of help, and are grateful it doesn't today, that's another. If you can help, please go to, or call 631-843-3056 to donate. Your gift can work to change the cruel math of this economy. hN

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