The economic outlook continues to be grim, and it's likely to become more so as we move farther into 2009. The national statistics are alarming enough — jobless claims are up, entire retail chains are closing their doors and Congress is debating pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy to try to right the ship. Here at home, the impact of the downturn is felt in myriad small ways — too small to be measured from Washington, D.C., but keenly felt by those affected.

The economic outlook continues to be grim, and it's likely to become more so as we move farther into 2009. The national statistics are alarming enough — jobless claims are up, entire retail chains are closing their doors and Congress is debating pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy to try to right the ship. Here at home, the impact of the downturn is felt in myriad small ways — too small to be measured from Washington, D.C., but keenly felt by those affected.

Just before he took office, President Barack Obama urged Americans to reach out in a national day of service on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and many responded. That effort can and should continue.

We've written before about the struggles of local nonprofit agencies to keep up with rising demand while their usual sources of support dwindle. Today, the Mail Tribune is launching a new feature in hopes that it may prompt those who can help to do so — again, in myriad small ways. If enough people reach out with small gestures of support, those gestures soon add up.

The feature is called "You Can Help." It's modeled after our Light One Candle series that has run during the Christmas season for many years. The idea is not to solicit cash donations — although those are always welcome — but to suggest ways in which people can provide small, tangible things agencies need right now to continue their mission of service. Some of these items may be taking up space in your garage, or destined for the recycling bin, but could be used again instead.

A few examples:

The Salvation Army needs warm clothing, especially coats, to help people stay warm during the winter.The Southern Oregon Humane Society needs gravel to repair the driveway at its current animal shelter, and dog and cat food. Commited Alliance to Strays (CATS), another local shelter serving our feline friends, also needs cat food. CATS uses a specific brand, but passes on donations of brands it doesn't use to families who want to keep their pets but are finding it hard to do so as incomes shrink. The Veterans Affairs Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics could use lap blankets, magazines and books, and phone cards so its residents can stay in touch with families.

These are only a few examples. Many more will certainly surface in the weeks and months to come.

Southern Oregon residents have a long tradition of reaching out to meet needs in the community. The current economic crisis means those needs are greater than ever, affecting more people every day.

We are confident that Rogue Valley residents will respond generously as they have so often in the past.