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Celebrate by helping those in need

The Christmas season brings with it feelings of warmth, family togetherness, peace, beauty and feasting. But for too many of our neighbors, it means struggling to pay the heating bill, families torn apart by the ugliness of domestic violence and abuse, and not enough food to go around.

Every year at this time, the Mail Tribune publishes Light One Candle, a series of stories detailing real people with real needs and the agencies that work to help them. And every year, this community responds in overwhelming fashion, meeting the needs of the profiled families and then some.

After the immediate needs of the profiled families are met, extra donations are shared with others. Because for every family we write about, there are many more.

This year's list features people struggling against seemingly insurmountable obstacles. There is the young father paralyzed in a football accident. The mother of four who wants to make new memories this Christmas to replace those of last year, when her husband nearly killed her in a methamphetamine-fueled frenzy. The couple living in an unheated fifth-wheel trailer with two children who sleep on the floor.

All those specific needs are real, and so are those of the individuals and families who don't get featured in the paper — and those of the agencies that work to help. Information about giving to the agencies responsible is included in each Light One Candle story in the newspaper.

Beyond material assistance such as clothes, furniture, housewares, diapers and blankets, many Rogue Valley residents rely on the local network of food pantries to put nutritious meals on their families' tables. This is the time of year when ACCESS Inc. conducts its biggest food drive of the year, aiming to collect enough food and cash to get through the winter months, long after the holiday spirit has faded.

The Food for Hope drive got off to a slow start this season. The agency had hoped to collect $40,000 in cash and 30,000 pounds of food between the Monday before Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, but donations totaled only $4,500 and 6,000 pounds of food by last week. The pace has picked up since then; ACCESS Food Program Manager Philip Yates reports cash donations were at just over $20,000 and food at 15,000 pounds as of Friday — halfway to the goal with two weeks to go.

To help, drop off nonperishable food items at any fire station or Umpqua Bank branch in Jackson County, Sherm's Thunderbird or Food 4 Less markets or the following churches: Ascension Lutheran, Westminster Presbyterian, First Christian, St. Peter's Lutheran and Medford Congregational. In addition, donations are accepted at the annual Greystone Court Christmas light display off North Phoenix Road starting Saturday, Dec. 20. Send checks to ACCESS Food Share, P.O. Box 4666, Medford, OR 97501 or donate online at www.accesshelps.org.