Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.

Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.

— Seneca

For more than a decade, the Mail Tribune has featured the holiday giving "Light One Candle" series. This year it was my turn to ask for your help, dear readers, in meeting the needs of about 20 individuals or families.

That so many of you gave — and gave so generously — really comes as no surprise. Candle stories wring our hearts: the sexually abused child, the mentally and emotionally challenged teen, the families stricken by devastating illnesses. Giving comes easier when it's fueled by compassion and understanding.

My phone was ringing off the hook for the entire month. My e-mail box was filled to overflowing. Most folks were amazing. A few were, well, not so charitable.

I got one letter from a lady ranting against one of the nonprofits. Her roiling missive was a full-page justification on why she wasn't going to give. No siree! Her letter ended with an autogenerated tag line that said, "Share a smile! They're contagious." I'm sure it wasn't her intent, but I did get a big ol' grin out of her letter. I like to think she gave in her own small way.

We also got a lot of calls and letters from private individuals nominating someone they personally know and believed to be in need of a Candle story. A special friend. A co-worker. Sometimes even themselves.

One lady wrote in spidery handwriting to say she was facing terminal cancer. She is in pain and needs her motorized wheelchair to get around. But it's broken. She asked if we could write a story and help her get it fixed. Because Light One Candle is restricted to candidates from nonprofit agencies, we couldn't write the story. But I'm still looking for an electrical wizard who knows his way around a Little Rascal. If that's you, give me a call.

Yes. There are still so many with needs yet to be met it can be overwhelming. Where do you start? Where does it end? I guess what I learned is to start anywhere — and don't stop. Just pace yourself. Caring is a marathon event. Not a sprint.

And know you're not the Lone Ranger when it comes to helping out. There are stalwart souls of all ages and all walks of life eager to lend a helping hand. And many prefer their good deeds not go public.

One nice fellow called with $500 burning a hole in his checkbook. He prefers giving to animal charities, he said. But this year, he wanted also to do something for his own species. He asked me to select one of the stories for him. I suggested he keep reading.

"There will be 20 stories," I said. "One will strike your fancy. Guaranteed."

Giving wasn't just limited to the Candle series, of course. One story I heard about from neighbors involved Jackson County sheriff's deputies who recently responded to a car fire. The woman and her children were safely out. But the family's car was burned to a crisp — incinerating with it all their holiday gifts and their only car seat. The deputies quietly bought the family another car, filled it with presents for the kids and a new car seat, and delivered it all to the family just in time for Christmas.

A couple of in-the-loop neighbors also heard about the family's troubles. They bought boxes of food filled with enough holiday goodies to last till New Year's. Talk about your Secret Santas.

There are many tragic tales that didn't benefit by a little Candle icon and a community's support. At least not this year. To all who gave, our deepest thanks. To those who haven't yet, there's always today. And tomorrow.

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