By the Herald editorial staff
Americans' reservoir of goodwill runs over even when finances are on the dry side.
Once again, a report on the status of charity in the United States matches experience in the Tri-Cities.
It's an encouraging sign of the times. Maybe Americans aren't as isolated by the pressures and distractions of modern life as we seem.
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We've all heard family stories of how Grandma and Grandpa let tramps and hoboes sleep in the barn or always had a hot meal to share, even if portions were small.
Our charitable spirit didn't end with the Great Depression.
The Giving USA Foundation and its research partner, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, estimate that charitable contributions from American individuals, corporations and foundations fell to $303.75 billion in 2009, down from $315.08 billion for 2008.
That's a fall of 3.2 percent, accounting for the slight deflation that occurred in 2009, according to the report.
"Even in a time of enormous economic upheaval, such as we saw in 2009, Americans continued to be generous to charitable causes," said Giving USA Foundation chairwoman Edith H. Falk.
"While overall giving declined, many donors -- including individuals and foundations -- made special efforts in 2009 to respond to greater humanitarian needs."
Still, 2009 was the first decline in giving since 1987 and only the second since Giving USA began publishing annual reports in 1956.
Another study, this one by the government-run Corporation for National and Community Service, shows, on the other hand, Americans spent 100 million more hours helping their communities last year, and the number of volunteers increased by 1.6 million from 2008 to 63.4 million in 2009.
It's the biggest increase in volunteers in a single year since 2003, the study found.
Americans overall set aside 8.1 billion hours to lend a hand, with the typical volunteer donating about 52 hours for the year.
We're happy to know the trend extends to the Mid-Columbia.
The Benton Franklin Volunteer Center reports that in 2009, the agency's volunteer hours were up at an astounding rate: 197,696 total hours of volunteer service in 2008, following 154,539 hours of volunteer service in 2008. That's a difference of 43,157 hours.
The center received 363 new volunteers in 2008 and 744 in 2009, bringing the total to 5,963 individuals donating their time to help others.
The financial picture is not as encouraging, of course. The Volunteer Center has scrambled for money ever since it lost support from the United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties.
Executive Director Cathy Merrill Holle says the plea for help is as important today as ever.
But the conclusion remains unmistakable -- Tri-Citians, as with Americans everywhere, give what they can, when they can and how they can to help others less fortunate.