The troubled economy causes me to think about blizzards. An ugly thought to Minnesotans trying to hang onto our beautiful fall.

But blizzards have their upside. I think of "snow days," when the entire neighborhood is either stuck or shoveling others out. Frustration and anger about having no control over the day give way to a desire to control what we can. Younger people help older people. Those with snowblowers help those with shovels. People check on home-bound neighbors. We look out for one another as we work together to overcome a shared predicament. And it feels good.

The global economic storm has left us in another shared predicament. And as with snow days, we are frustrated and angry about having no control over the situation.

Fortunately, helping those who are hurting the most is something we can control, and with a little effort -- even less than pushing our neighbor out of a snowbank -- we can make a charitable gift that will help someone in need.

Just as we wouldn't think of leaving our neighbors to flounder in a snowbank, we shouldn't leave behind the most vulnerable among us to struggle for survival.

Charitable giving is rooted in American history. Its source is both a widespread sense of community and the redeeming human impulse to help people less fortunate. And, while donating to nonprofits may feel less personal than shoveling your elderly neighbor's sidewalk, it can be just as satisfying. But, you say, it's hard to be generous when your net worth has declined 30 percent in the last few weeks. What hasn't declined, though, are the values that drive charitable giving.

In fact, a recent study by Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy looked at the past four decades of charitable giving and found that recessions have spurred giving to charities that provide human services. The average rate of growth in such charitable giving, after adjusting for inflation, more than doubled during the four years with extended recessions.

Perhaps we can identify better with the truly needy when we are less comfortable ourselves. And perhaps we can understand better what we need vs. what we want, and find money left over to help others who don't have enough to cover basic needs.

Rich Cowles is executive director of the Charities Review Council of Minnesota. The council offers information about charities at