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Annette John-Hall: Charity - and its opposite

This is definitely one for the As Trifling As It Gets files. I mean, what would possess someone to steal red holiday donation kettles from the Salvation Army?

This is definitely one for the As Trifling As It Gets files.

I mean, what would possess someone to steal red holiday donation kettles from the Salvation Army?

That's what happened three times in the Northeast recently. I thought I had heard it all until I read that a particularly brazen thief got away with tripod, kettle, heck, everything but the bell, in front of the Acme on Roosevelt Boulevard near Solly. I'm still scratching my head over how he was able to snatch all of that while racing past on a bicycle.

You would think even the most boneheaded grinch would have enough sense to understand that the Salvation Army's slogan of "doing the most good" pertains to people like him. But then again, it takes a particular brand of thief to steal from charity - the kind with no heart.

It's easy to chalk up a thief's actions to a criminal mind-set. But what to make of everyday people tightening their purse strings during a season when people need it most?

Less to give

All across the Philadelphia region, giving is down while the need is up.

"The very obvious fact," says Temple sociologist Matt Wray, "is that people stop giving because they have much less to give and, perhaps more importantly, the fear they will continue to have less and less. . . . If I thought I could give my last $25 to a worthy charity today because I'm sure that I'd have $50 tomorrow, I might do it. But these days, nobody feels that confident."

Fair enough. But what's inexcusable is subscribing to the Herman Cain theory that if you're out of a job, it's your own fault. You know, blame the poor for being poor. Sort of follows Rick Santorum's warped line of thinking that poor, obese folks don't need food stamps.

What's worse is that many struggling to stay in the middle class agree, even though they may be one paycheck away from a SNAP card themselves.

But here's what I've discovered about the human spirit: Kindness trumps pettiness every single time. Just when you think generosity has gone the way of those ripped-off red kettles, the goodness of people consistently comes through.

Spurred into action

When Daniel Hilferty, CEO of Independence Blue Cross, heard on the radio that Toys for Tots donations of new, unwrapped toys were lagging by a staggering 80 percent, two thoughts spurred him into action.

The first was, "The Marines are the sponsors," he said. "The Marines have never let us down, so we shouldn't let them down."

Then he thought back to his own childhood, as the youngest of five kids of a struggling single mother growing up in West Philly.

"Christmas was important to my mom," he said. "I feel like, kids who are in less fortunate economic situations, the community should step up for them."

Since Hilferty announced his company's pledge last week to give Toys for Tots 1,000 toys and match every additional toy donated up to 2,500, "we've received hundreds of toys," he said. "Our lobby is filled."

Not only that, he has fielded dozens of calls from Chamber of Commerce members who want to drop off toys or make a financial contribution.

Sometimes, all it takes is for folks to be made aware that a need exists.

That's what Philabundance is hoping for. Though its food drives are up 4 percent, fund-raising is down 7 percent. Feeding 65,000 people a week across the region - an 26 percent increase over last year - the region's largest hunger-relief organization found itself functioning, albeit strapped.

But as always, a good samaritan has come through.

On Tuesday, Philabundance will announce that an anonymous donor will match every donated dollar up to $25,000.

"Normally we can provide two meals for $1, but with the match, we can provide four meals for $1," says Marianne Lynch, Philabundance's development director.

"You know," says Lynch, "Philadelphians have a reputation for being heartless, but when it comes to helping people in need, I find the people here most giving and caring."

Of course, they're the ones we never hear about.