One of my family's firmly entrenched Christmas traditions is this:
If any of us approach a store and find a Salvation Army volunteer or worker ringing their bell, we always make a donation.
A donation is optional if they aren't ringing their bell. But it's mandatory if they are.
On Wednesday, I intend to ring like heck.
The kind folks at the Salvation Army have agreed to let me man a kettle in front of the Evans Wal-Mart from 1-5 p.m. Wednesday. Members of my staff will help with the effort, and perhaps one or two of my daughters will chime in.
We all know times are tough for some folks this year, so those of us who aren't struggling should consider digging a little deeper to help those who are. Please stop by the Evans Wal-Mart Wednesday afternoon, say hello, and drop a donation in the kettle.
Another way to help in a time of need, and to have a great evening, is to attend the inaugural Columbia County Cares benefit concert at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Christ the King Lutheran Church on Evans-to-Locks Road.
Like the larger, regional Golden Harvest Food Bank, Columbia County Cares is facing the double-whammy of lower donations and higher demand.
The concert Monday will feature choruses from Lakeside High, Greenbrier High and Lakeside Middle schools. Admission is free, with donations of money and non-perishable food requested.
Many less fortunate people thank you in advance.
Speaking of fortune, a story dropped in via e-mail the other day from a builder friend noting housing news isn't all as bad as it seems.
The story is from MSN Money's Web site, and provides significant ammunition for those, like me, who contend that national gloom about home values doesn't necessarily hold true here.
Significantly, the story points out that while home prices nationally have dropped 4 percent during the past year, the Augusta area -- which includes Columbia County -- has shown the second-highest level of increase in home values during that period.
At the top of the list is Austin, Texas, where home values rose 5.6 percent between the third quarter of 2007 and the third quarter of 2008. Just behind is the Augusta area, with home values rising during that period by 5.5 percent.
Want real gloom? Imagine owning a home in California where property values have plummeted: Merced, by 42.3 percent; Stockton, by 41.4 percent; and Modesto by 36.7 percent. It's numbers like those that have led to the frightening statistic of 23 percent of homes being worth less than the mortgage on them.
Here, though, prices are stable, even if sales are anything but stellar. Heith Lawrence, who each month prepares a market report for Meybohm Realtors, points out that the number of new home sales and the volume of sales in our area has softened in the past year.
For example, about 200 fewer homes sold in the third quarter of this year when compared to the same period of 2007, with a decrease in volume of about $55 million.
During that time, six of the top 10-selling neighborhoods were in Columbia County, including all of the top four. Through October, Columbia County and Grovetown combined for 753 residential building permits, while Augusta had just 160. Even high-flying North Augusta had just 88.
No, things aren't as good as they could be. But I'm the eternal optimist; even the supposedly awful national unemployment figures still mean that 94 percent of people who want a job have one.
Besides: I just filled my gas tank the other day for $20. That's a good reason to ring a bell all by itself.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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