Your generosity can change lives of many

Ideally, the holidays should be a happy, carefree time. Unfortunately, things don't always work out that way.

Tenants are in danger of being evicted, children are going hungry, senior citizens are shivering in cold apartments and hardworking parents need a little help to get by.

Charleston is recognized nationally as a friendly, well-mannered place. But what the world might not be aware of is how caring the people of the Lowcountry are. Since 1927, they have contributed more than $6.1 million to The Post and Courier's Good Cheer Fund to help their neighbors in need during the holiday season.

In its first year, the fund started by Thomas P. Lesesne, former managing editor of The News and Courier, raised $1,797. Last year's total of $335,817.19 was up $18,248.16 over 2009, making 2010 the third-most-successful campaign in the fund's history, despite the still-struggling economy.

The money is distributed through six local charitable organizations -- Coastal Catholic Charities, Carolina Youth Development Center, Lowcountry Food Bank, Association for the Blind, Star Gospel Mission and The Salvation Army. Last year, the agencies used the money as follows:

Coastal Catholic Charities used its funds to help Lowcountry residents with housing assistance, food, utilities, medical and dental needs. Regional coordinator Helen O'Leary found the community's outpouring of contributions a welcome surprise.

"The generosity exhibited by the people of the greater Charleston community has once more made it possible for the Lowcountry's unfortunate to hold dear this most blessed season," she said.

"Catholic Charities was able to reach the needy of the Charleston area and bring some relief and joy to their families over the holiday season."

Carolina Youth Development Center threw a holiday party for 100 Big Brothers Big Sisters clients, including food, gifts and gift cards for the children and their families; provided food and basic needs for residents in CYDC's shelters and group homes; and purchased clothing gift cards for victims of a house fire.

"Prior to coming to live with us, most of (the children in the CYDC residential programs) lived in unimaginable poverty, and sufficient food, medicine and clothing were luxuries," said Barbara Kelley Duncan, CYDC chief executive officer. "These young people are grateful beyond belief that the community cares about them and wants them to be safe and nurtured."

Ilze Astad, executive director of operations for the Lowcountry Food Bank, said more than 96,000 people in the Tri-county area experience chronic or periodic hunger, and more than 12 percent of hungry households include senior citizens. "Seniors can be a particularly vulnerable group," she said. "They often have fewer economic resources and higher health care costs, making it difficult for them to purchase the adequate quantity and quality food they need."

Last year, with Good Cheer funds, the agency was able to distribute 63,173 pounds of food to 2,732 seniors living in poverty. Each box contained canned chicken, crowder peas, corn, green beans, beef stew and mushroom soup; fresh produce; dried pinto beans; grits; and a bag of brown rice.

Each year, the Association for the Blind uses some of its Good Cheer money to hold a holiday luncheon for more than 200 people during which each client receives a gift card.

"The Post and Courier's Good Cheer Fund brought such joy and relief to so many clients of the Association for the Blind," said Cornelia Pelzer, executive director. "The Christmas party was a great success and a truly special event for the attendees. The legally blind chef prepared the lunch for the third year, and entertainment was provided by a blind Braille instructor."

Pelzer added that the association was able to distribute funds to some 100 people who applied for assistance.

"We were able to help numbers of people with their utility bills, glasses and assistive low-vision devices, as well as assist with cataract surgery so a 29-year-old could go back to work."

The Star Gospel Mission primarily helps homeless men but does what it can for the larger community as well. Last year, the agency distributed food gift cards to more than 1,600 individuals and families, paid for flu shots for a number of elderly residents, helped 80 families with rent and utilities, and provided medical, dental and eye care for some 20 more, according to the Rev. William K. Christian, executive director.

The Salvation Army of Charleston used its portion of the Good Cheer Fund to purchase food gift cards for some 680 families in the annual Christmas Assistance Program and to provide help with utility and rent payments for clients throughout the Tri-county area.

Beginning Monday, The Post and Courier will publish daily stories featuring real examples of how the Good Cheer Fund can make a difference in people's lives.

Donations can be mailed to Good Cheer Fund, c/o The Post and Courier, 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403-4800 or delivered in person. In addition, donations may be made online at www.goodcheerfund.com.

All the money collected goes directly to the six agencies, with no overhead or administrative costs, and it must all be spent during the holiday season.