Have you ever wondered whether what you do really makes a difference? In this big old world, it can be easy to start believing that any individual act of compassion is but a tiny pebble tossed into a bottomless pond of need.

Have you ever wondered whether what you do really makes a difference? In this big old world, it can be easy to start believing that any individual act of compassion is but a tiny pebble tossed into a bottomless pond of need.

If you were one of the folks who gave to the Moriarty family during last year's Light One Candle holiday giving series, you can rest assured your efforts made a huge difference in the lives of this family of 10 who were facing homelessness. In fact, your donations made a difference in the lives of 10 more families in our community. And let us not forget the goodies delivered to all the other men, women and children who were featured in the following days of this annual December help-a-thon.

The Moriartys' story is detailed on the front page of today's paper. We thought you might want to know how things shook out for this family — one year down the road. Here are the highlights: Their home is intact. Their children are thriving. Their gratitude is enduring.

But let's go back for a moment to Christmas 2009, when things were not so cheery.

For those of you who may not know, finding someone brave enough to be the public face in the Light One Candle kick-off story is not an easy task. People are understandably reluctant to put their personal business out there for everyone to read. It's scary enough to admit to oneself that life has spiraled out of control. It takes a special kind of courage to tell one and all that you and your family are about to be evicted from your home. And to ask strangers for help.

"It's not easy to be the person who needs help, especially if you're used to being the kind of person who helps others," said Sabena Moriarty, mother of a blended family of eight children, United States Marine veteran and former firefighter volunteer.

The Moriartys agreed to tell their tale — as a family. For not only was their need dire, but they were promised others would be helped as well. Their children, ages 17 years to one year, gathered in the living room and shared their hopes and fears. Only yet-to-be-born baby Phineas was mute on the subject. Although I do think he chimed in with a timely kick or two from his mom's womb, if memory serves.

Sadly, there always seems to be a few haters to add to the pain, those sorry souls eager to offer up petty judgments and condemnations. I get these tedious calls each year about so-and-so not being "worthy" of help. But I am relieved to say that the Moriartys came across only a few of these Grinches.

As Sabena's husband, Oregon National Guard Corporal Stephan Moriarty, said Tuesday, it's worth the risk. For if folks don't open up and share their truth, everyone may miss out on an opportunity to dance with their better angels.

"If you don't see where the need is, you lose sight of the importance of helping," Stephan said.

And that is why Stephan and Sabena agreed to let us intrude upon their lives once again this year. Their hope is that by showing the difference you all made by reaching out, others will be encouraged to help this year.

That is my hope, as well. There are so many people whose stories will never make it to the paper. I know of several already who do not meet the criteria for Light One Candle. But their needs are just as great as those who will make it into the series. And we are trying to get them assistance, too.

"Sometimes you just don't always know how to reach out," said Sabena. "And people need to know that your neighbor may look like everything is fine. But she might be sitting in her living room, crying on the sofa late at night so the kids don't hear, not knowing where to turn."

To all those struggling this year, please reach out. To the Good Samaritans of last year, please give again. To all who have been wondering whether you can make a difference, you can.

Helping strangers is a lot like tossing that proverbial pebble into the pond. Your pebble may sink quickly out of sight. But rest assured ripples of compassion are carrying hope across the water, bringing storm-tossed souls safely to shore.

"We live in a neat place," said Sabena. "People offer to help each other. It still amazes and humbles me. It has restored my faith in so much. It's just so wonderful."

Please donate to the Hope Chest, in care of United Way of Jackson County. Call 541-773-5339. Or visit www.unitedwayofjacksoncounty.org.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.