During the past year, many Texas families have been impacted by our nation’s struggling economy. Many hard-working men and women have lost their jobs, many have had to make sizeable cuts to the family budgets, and many have had their homes foreclosed. In addition, our farmers and ranchers in Texas endured one of the worst droughts in 50 years. While other states across the country were certainly hit harder by the recession, Texas has suffered its fair share of economic losses and this holiday season is sure to be tough on thousands of Texans across the state.

Fortunately, Texas is a place where neighbors lend each other a helping hand in times of need and help each other overcome hard times. Texans have a long history of supporting local charitable organizations by donating time, money or goods such as food or clothing to those who are less fortunate. Started as an orphanage in Dallas in 1903, Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services has been providing residential care to displaced children and families for more than 100 years. Similarly, for 117 years, DePelchin’s Children Center - originally name the Faith Home - has provided shelter and other services to children in need and in crisis situations in the Houston area. Today, there are more than 80,000 non-profit organizations recognized by the IRS in Texas.

This year, however, studies show that our weakened economy is sending more and more Americans to seek help from these charitable organizations, while at the same time, individuals who normally donate are tightening their belts and donating less. One survey shows that only 38 percent of Americans say they are more likely to give a charitable gift as a holiday present this year, compared to 49 percent last year. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which surveys the nation’s biggest 400 charities, half of these organizations expect giving to drop this year by more than nine percent. Three-fourths of these same charities said the recession had forced them to dismiss workers or cut other spending. Here in Texas, the Dallas based American Heart Association finished its fiscal year on June 30, reporting its donations were down nearly 12 percent and it was forced to cut 10 percent of its workforce.

But as donations drop, the demand for assistance in Texas is growing. David Davenport, CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, recently told the Austin Chronicle, “Last month was the largest month for food distribution in our 28-year history.” In Dallas, the North Texas Food Bank has seen a 46-percent jump in the amount of food and groceries distributed to citizens in its service over the last year.

While many Texans are having to cut back this holiday season and make tough budgeting decisions, I believe each of us can contribute in some way to helping those who are less fortunate. In Austin, Coats for Kids, organized by the Junior League of Austin, Jack Brown Cleaners, KASE 101 and KVUE, is sponsoring its 23rd annual coat drive for eligible children in Central Texas. Individuals are encouraged to donate a new or gently used coat that will help keep underprivileged children in the area warm this winter. San Antonio’s Food4SA campaign seeks to provide meals to the one in four children and one out of every five adults in Bexar County who do not know where they will get their next meal. Those wishing to help can fill a paper bag with non-perishable food items and drop it off at any of the 23 Security Service Federal Credit Union locations in San Antonio. In Houston, the Smiles on Wheels project aiming to assemble 5,000 bicycles for distribution to low income children in the Houston area. The project is looking for individuals to donate their time to help assemble the bicycles. Shifts are available through mid-December. In El Paso, Operation Open Arms, sponsored by the Sierra Providence Health Network, collects food to help military families in need at Fort Bliss. Last year, more than 1,000 Thanksgiving baskets were distributed. Next week, I look forward to joining Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell at the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, where we’ll be helping volunteers package Thanksgiving meals for those in need in the local area.

In communities across Texas, there are opportunities for each of us to make a positive difference in the life of a neighbor in need. However small our contribution may be, I encourage every Texan to make the extra effort this holiday season to help our fellow Texans survive these challenging times and look forward to brighter days ahead.