Times may be tough, but the spirit of giving is stronger than ever.

Soprano Melissa Perry and conductor/composer husband Hugh Kronrot of Collingswood would know.

"We were overwhelmed," said Perry, referring to the many generous readers who responded to an Inquirer article last month about a Thanksgiving-week benefit concert for their daughter, Sara. The 6-year-old is profoundly challenged by cerebral palsy, limited vision and movement, and ongoing life-threatening respiratory problems.

"We received donations of everything from $2, to a major gift of $1,000 from a Collingswood special fund," Perry said. "We even received a $15 donation from a group of monks vowed to poverty."

Total strangers sent contributions, some saying it was their Christmas gift this year in lieu of the more traditional gifts. In all, they received $14,000 in donations.

And that was in addition to the $6,000 in proceeds from the "Songs for Sara" benefit concert, organized by the Haddon Fortnightly, a women's service organization in Haddonfield. Perry and Kronrot said they were deeply touched by the support from local merchants, organizations and kind strangers, who stepped forward to volunteer their time and services.

A month ago, life looked bleak for the couple, who, deep in debt from medical bills, were forced to curtail expensive therapies for Sara and, worst of all, were contemplating the possibility of having to institutionalize her. They were losing ground fast, and even holding onto their home was in grave doubt.

But friends and mostly strangers weren't about to let them fall.

Kronrot recalls going to the local post office and being surprised to pick up 56 letters just after the newspaper story about the benefit concert and their plight was published. A few days later, there were 150 more. Ultimately, there were 300 letters, most of them containing contributions to help the family through its daunting time.

"After having felt so isolated for the last six years, it was such a wonderful contrast to feel encircled by the arms of a loving community," says Perry. "Many of the letter-writers shared stories about their own caregiving for loved ones. We have hope now."

Some of that hope comes from an Ocean City woman who is creating a Facebook page for Sara. The manufacturer of a device that would help Sara improve her breathing also reached out.

"We can't afford it, but the company may be finding us a donor," explains Perry.

An official group of volunteers, "Friends of Sara," has formed to plan another concert and more support for the child.

Sara battles on. In the last month, there have been more hospitalizations and medical crises. But when she worked with her occupational therapist recently to create her own Christmas wrapping paper, Sara had the choice of decorating it with trees, circles or squares. She chose none of those.

She chose hearts. Meticulously drawn hearts in her own hand.

And that, her parents, believe, says it all.