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by Abigail Van Buren

Neighborhood Charity Project Spreads Joy to Those in Need

DEAR ABBY: Thank you for your column about appropriate gifts for seniors. Like many families, we, too, have wrestled with the "what do we get for people who have everything?" gift dilemma. Last year, our family finally hit upon a solution. We discussed it with our grandparents. They agreed that it would be more charitable for us to give something to people who lack everyday necessities.

We adopted a battered children's shelter. Those little ones are truly refugees. They need everything from toothbrushes and hairbrushes to baby formula and diapers -- not to mention toys and games.

To our delight, our neighbors got involved in our project, too. For weeks, on Thursdays, neighbors would leave donations in a sack by their mailbox, and we would pick them up. Our goal was for every child in that shelter to wake up on Christmas morning to find packages of necessities and a few playthings.

The project created so much excitement among our neighbors that we collected enough for two shelters. There were pillows, socks, underwear, bath products, cold medicines, books, towels, baby clothes, etc. Each child also got a large gift basket, including a nonbreakable tree ornament to help him or her remember this holiday. The cost was small when spread over so many families, but the rewards couldn't have been greater. We felt our project embodied the true spirit of Christmas. It sensitized our children to the needs of others all year long.

Because it was one of the best holidays we have ever had, we're repeating the drive again this year. When people join together, everyone CAN make a difference. -- SANTA'S HELPERS IN PHOENIX

DEAR SANTA'S HELPERS: They certainly can. Witness the incredible amounts of money raised by the Red Cross and the fund for the families of the people who perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

With that in mind, I hope that readers will be sensitive to the needs of charities in their local communities this year. Because monies that would ordinarily have been donated to local charities were diverted to the East Coast tragedies, many charities in other parts of the country are having difficulty raising enough to meet their budgets for 2001. Remember, folks, charity begins at home -- and by that I mean the communities in which you dwell.