We didn’t see it coming.

The COVID-19 worldwide pandemic swooped into our lives suddenly in March 2020, interrupting or ending every aspect of normalcy. More than 17 months later many are still struggling with the causality loss, the two greatest being personal with the death of a loved one and economic with reduction in work hours or the end of a job.

The hardest hit individuals have been the ones with the least. The pandemic made low-income families poorer.

According to Opportunity Insights’ economic tracker, the employment rate for high-wage workers almost entirely recovered to its pre-pandemic level by March 2021, while only 16% of low-wage workers experienced the same.

The economic shortages experienced by low-income families during the months of the pandemic have been subsidized with huge increases in government aid. This helped many families put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. However, the three government programs that helped the most — stimulus checks, increased food stamps and expanded unemployment insurance — have ended or will soon revert to their pre-pandemic size.

Millions of low-income families may, again, struggle to make ends meet. It is a tragedy any time children go hungry or are homeless but even more so when this occurs during the holidays.

As government subsidies ebb and end, families in need will again turn to rely heavily on charities for help. Thankfully, there are signs that when this happens the help will be there.

Total charitable giving in the United States in 2020 grew by 5.1% over 2019 to a record $471 billion, according to Giving USA, which is the longest-running report on sources and uses of charitable giving in America. This includes an increase of almost 16% in public-society benefit and an almost 10% increase in human services, which are the dollars that support food shelves and emergency shelters.

Among the lessons we have learned during the pandemic is that the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. But we can’t leave assistance to needy families to chance.

Now is the time to turn the helplessness we have felt during the past 17 months of the pandemic into positive action that can make a difference in many peoples’ lives. Giving generously to our many nonprofit organizations and holiday charity drives is a way we all can help.

In Minnesota, an excellent — and fun — way to contribute to charities aiding needy families was the Nov. 18 Give to the Max Day, a 24-hour online give-a-thon hosted by GiveMN at GiveMN.org. If you missed it, GiveMN is more than the one-day giving event. Potential donors can give to nonprofits, charities and schools year-round on the organization’s website. During the first 10 years of GiveMN, more than 700,000 donors gave nearly $300 million to 13,000 nonprofits and schools through the website.

We’ll hear of many other opportunities to donate cash or items this holiday season – from the traditional Toys for Tots and Salvation Army’s red kettles – to smaller organizations that specifically serve your community, such as your local food shelf.

The success of these charities is entirely due to the generosity of Minnesotans. The ongoing struggles of families due to the pandemic should be a catalyst to making this year’s holiday giving season the most successful yet.

We don’t expect to be disappointed. — An editorial from the APG of East Central Minnesota Editorial Board. Reactions are welcome. Send to: editorial.board@apgecm.com.

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