Updated Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 03:18 AM
The big disasters, we've got covered. We know what to do. From Hurricane Katrina to the latest comer, Sandy, America can be counted on to respond as one.
We donate food and clothes. We send our power-line workers and medical personnel. We tap out $10 text donations to the American Red Cross.
What really defines a community, though, is how we respond to the little disasters, the family dramas that play out behind closed doors and a few streets away.
CNN doesn't show up when you lose your job or the power gets turned off. There are no benefit concerts for back injuries that turn into medical bills which turn a life's savings to dust.
But there is The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
For 34 years, the charity has remained locally focused, fueling nonprofits that tend to the needs which surround us every day, all year long.
Last year, the Fund For The Needy received $1,159,058 from more than 3,870 different people. Kids gave pennies. Corporations matched gifts. And every dollar went to neighbors of the very people who gave.
The 12 social-service agencies aided by the Fund For The Needy cover the spectrum of human need, from diapers for newborns to ferrying seniors to medical appointments.
In between, they provide food bags and school supplies, rent money and counseling, housing for single mothers and stability for foster children.
We asked the benefiting agencies to tell us about the impact that the Fund For The Needy made.
Some agencies wrote a single, powerful paragraph.
"Our family support activities reached more than 3,000 individuals this year," wrote the Atlantic Street Center, "building upon their strengths and deepening their connection to their community."
The Kindering Center, which tends to infants and children with special needs and their families, wrote of the physical, speech and mental-health therapies made possible by donations.
"Early identification and treatment of developmental difficulties make a phenomenal difference for all children with special needs," Kindering's report said. "The investment from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy enabled Kindering to identify and meet the needs of more children before they turned 3 — the time when early education and intervention make the greatest, most lasting impact."
Others wrote page after page, telling success stories and tallying meals served, families saved.
"Your contributions profoundly impacted the lives of thousands of seniors," wrote a representative of Senior Services. "Thank you for giving back so generously to ensure that Seattle and King County remain a great place to grow older."
Kent Youth and Family Services (KYFS) has seemingly taken on the world. It provides services ranging from preschool classes that get kids ready for kindergarten, to housing for teen mothers, mental-health therapy and after-school programs.
One preschool teacher wrote of a child who is "very lively, lacks some self-control and personal space skills." The boy, who is still learning English, didn't recognize his name and didn't have the motor skills to write it.
It took him the entire school year, but month by month, letter by letter, he learned to write his name and, with the help of the social-development skills program, learned self-control and how to calm himself during classroom conflicts.
"Children learn in so many different ways," the teacher wrote. "To honor these learning styles and meet them halfway is not only very effective, it's so very rewarding."
KYFS also manages Watson Manor Transitional Housing, where 21 previously homeless young women age 16 to 25 — some pregnant, some parenting — are given the chance to stabilize. They built their own community and learned to become self-sufficient while establishing a rental and credit history.
One 21-year-old mother of two was determined to not receive cash assistance from the state Department of Social and Health Services, so she got a retail job, which she has kept for more than nine months.
"I feel safe and like I can do anything," she told one administrator. "I have gotten a lot of experience running an apartment, paying my bills and am even able to save money.
"I have learned wrong from right."
And then there is Treehouse for Kids, which focuses on foster children. They not only are able to "shop" for free childhood essentials like clothing, toys and school supplies, but the little ones are able to go to summer camp and participate in arts and athletics programs. They receive targeted education coordination and tutoring.
Older kids receive vital college and career planning to keep them on track to graduate from high school and become successful adults.
Wrote one Treehouse administrator: "Thanks to support from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy, we are taking significant steps toward our goal that by 2017, foster kids will graduate from high school at the same rate as their peers with a plan for their future."
A plan for the future.
A place to grow older.
Learning wrong from right.
Little disasters, alleviated or averted altogether. Right in our own backyard.
About The Times Fund For The Needy
The start of the holiday season signals the opening of the 34th annual Seattle Times Fund For The Needy campaign. Donations from Times readers benefit 12 nonprofit organizations helping children, families and senior citizens.
Since the fund's creation, readers have contributed more than $15.4 million. During the fund drive, articles tell how the contributions make a difference in the lives of thousands.
Fund For The Needy recipients
This year's recipients: The Salvation Army, Senior Services, Childhaven, Hopelink, Wellspring Family Services, Atlantic Street Center, Youth Eastside Services, Treehouse for Kids, Asian Counseling and Referral Service, Kindering Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound, and Kent Youth and Family Services.
Social-service agencies do their work with commitment and compassion, not fanfare.