During the holiday season, the Christmas Express will provide food, clothing and an array of gifts for 500 families in greater Hermiston.

Coordinated by the Hermiston Police Department, this outreach program operates at an annual cost of $15,000 - all of which comes through donations.

At the same time, The Salvation Army in Pendleton will reach out across Umatilla County to provide an estimated 400 holiday boxes, although Capt. Martha Sheppard said she wishes she had enough for 600 or more based upon the need.

The Salvation Army serves families, not just in Pendleton, but also in Milton-Freewater, Stanfield, Echo, Athena, Weston, Helix, Ukiah and elsewhere around the county.

The Christmas Express, which is under the guidance of Lt. Jason Edmiston, is struggling with the rising cost of food.

Edmiston said the basic cost of food for the 500 baskets is up about $5,000 this year.

At The Salvation Army, Sheppard is working to create traditional holiday gift boxes that include items such as a turkey, stuffing, pie filling, canned vegetables and cranberry sauce.

She is also in search of gifts for older children, particularly middle schoolers who would like things such as backpacks, arts and crafts, basketballs, footballs, and similar items. And, of course, both the Christmas Express and The Salvation Army are in need of funds to help make their outreach a reality.

This Saturday, volunteers at The Salvation Army will be assembling gift boxes beginning at 9 a.m. and Sheppard welcomes volunteers.

There also are other sources of community outreach such as the giving tree at Hamley's and efforts by various organizations.

Another tradition that is growing is a movement by families to cut back on their own Christmas giving to share with others. A number of adults have simply decided to eliminate their own gift list and donate the funds to charity or to buy gifts for distribution to families who are struggling to get by.

At the Agape House, Director David Hughes is reminded daily that need is not a seasonal thing, although winter seems to accelerate the issues with which he deals. Founded in 1986, Agape House has a mission of providing food, clothing and shelter, and those needs become more acute as cold weather sets in.

Agape House provides emergency food boxes year around, as well as transportation and medicine. Because of the economic downturn, their shelves are much barer than usual.

Plus, the demand for shelter, heating assistance, coats, blankets, and sleeping bags is now acute, according to Hughes.

There's an old tale called the starfish story which puts into perspective the challenge of reaching out when the need is so great.

A man was walking along the beach when he noticed a young boy throwing starfish back into the water. The tide had washed thousands of starfish onto the beach and the boy was systematically tossing them into the saltwater in order to save them.

As the man approached the young boy, he wondered about the futility of the whole exercise and asked the boy how he expected to save them all.

Just then the boy reached down, grabbed another starfish, and tossed it into the water.

"I may not be able to get them all back into the water," said the boy, "but it certainly made a difference for that one."

For Sheppard, for Edmiston, for Hughes, and for all of those who are working long hours right now to make a difference where they can, it's the best they can do.

"This is a wonderful place to live," said Hughes, "we are surrounded by people who are willing to give to others."

And as each would remind us, it's not too late to help this year.

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the East Oregonian editorial board, comprised of Editor George Murdock, Associate Publisher Kathryn Brown, General Manager Wendy DalPez and Managing Editor Skip Nichols. Other columns, letters and cartoons on this page express the opinions of the authors and not necessarily that of the East Oregonian.

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