It’s post-holidays and I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing “would you like to donate …” or “we are collecting …” I can’t say I blame anyone for feeling that way, especially considering that the economy has been rough on us all, and many are struggling. The problem is that people and animals do not stop needing food and other forms of assistance just because the holidays are over.

I think most of us would like to help, but there isn’t always a clear way to do so, especially when the problem isn’t necessarily staring us right in the face. While all our hearts go out to the people of Haiti and the many other people affected by other natural disasters, there are people and animals within our own communities that go hungry, go without shelter, and are living without some of the basic essentials many of us take for granted. We tend to pay more attention to a situation when it becomes so large that it cannot be ignored. Poverty isn’t always as painfully obvious as one might think. Those who struggle often try to hide it from their friends and neighbors, and their pride will not always allow them to ask for help. No one should have to choose whether to pay the fuel bill to heat their home, or buy groceries for their children. In these winter months, both have equal value.

I love that so many people are stepping up and donating to the American Red Cross and other organizations to help the people of Haiti, but there are still homeless, destitute, hungry neighbors in our own area who are in need of our help. Having found and rescued abandoned animals (cats, rabbits, domesticated birds) in the woods near my parents’ farm over the years, it is painfully clear that our neighbors also need help with feeding and taking care of their animals. No household pet should ever be abandoned to face the elements and either starve to death or fall victim to predators. With so many people no longer able to afford to keep their pets, the animal shelters have become increasingly crowded.

One problem is that even if someone is willing to ask for help, they often don’t know where to turn to get it. Therefore, on Saturday, Feb. 6 from 1 to 4 p.m., representatives from the Area Interfaith Outreach Food Pantry and the Humane Society of Knox County will be at the Knox County Courthouse in Rockland, on the ground floor, using the High Street entrance and the County Commissioners Hearing Room, to collect donations of nonperishable food and goods, as well as cash and checks. A snow date has been set for Saturday, Feb. 27. Both organizations will have information on how we can help ourselves, as well as each other, through these tough economic times.

Also at the event will be representatives from the Knox County Animal Response Team, the local branch of the Community Emergency Response Team, formed by Congress after Hurricane Katrina when it became clear that many people did not evacuate their homes because they did not want to leave their pets behind, or could not find a shelter that would allow them to bring their animals with them. The Knox County Animal Response Team is made up of local citizens dedicated to the well-being of animals that many of us consider to be part of our families. Team members are trained by county and state officials and teach their fellow citizens how to care for their pets during emergency situations.

The Knox County Emergency Management Agency will be there to share information on the many emergency services available to Knox County citizens, such as a prescription card program that has saved money for its users, including those who already have health insurance. If you have any questions about the program or any other EMA run program, feel free to come see us.

Also with us will be the Knox Regional Communications Center’s 9-1-1 Public Education Unit. It is an important part of the KRCC’s mission to care for the citizens of Knox County. Do you have emergency numbers accessible so that when something happens, you know immediately who to call? Did you know that many people do not call 911 because they are either not sure that what they are dealing with is an emergency or they think they will not receive help until law enforcement or ambulance services arrive? The dispatchers at the KRCC can connect you with the best agency or services to help you, and are also trained to walk you through whatever situation you find yourself in. The 9-1-1 Public Education Unit will be at the courthouse with information on how you can stay safe, care for others and know what to do in an emergency.

Don Carrigan, reporter from WLBZ 2 and WCSH 6 News and the infamous Togus the Cat’s chauffeur, will be there with Togus to show support.

During the month of January, five locations within Knox County will accept donations of money, food and other products, which will then be collected and brought to the courthouse on the day of the event. You can also bring items or donations to the courthouse the day of the event. Any donations made by check must be made out to the specific organization (the AIO Food Pantry or the Humane Society of Knox County).

The Camden-Rockport Middle School is also collecting nonperishable food and items from the two organizations’ wish lists. If parents would like to send donated items with their students to school, the items will be collected in the main office. CRMS is not collecting cash or check donations.

Three local businesses are collection points for nonperishable food and goods, and cash and check donations: The Owl & Turtle Bookshop in Camden, the Grasshopper Shop in Rockland, and Hoboken Gardens in Rockport. These businesses will also sell raffle tickets as part of the fundraiser.

Raffle tickets are $2 each or $10 for six, and must be purchased with cash because the money will be split between the two organizations. The prizes for the raffle have been donated by local businesses. Names will be drawn for the prizes at the end of the event at the courthouse. Besides the three businesses listed above, raffle tickets are also being sold by the Humane Society of Knox County, Gail Richards at Camden-Rockport Elementary School, and Classic Cuts Hair Salon in Rockland.

For more information, including links to the participating businesses and organizations, the “wish lists” for the two organizations, and a list of raffle prizes, go to http://knoxcountyfeedourfriends.blogspot.com/. The Web site will be updated as more information is available. Anyone who has questions or would like to help or donate something for the raffle, please send an e-mail to crichards@knoxcountymaine.gov.

I know times are hard for everybody, but if you can find room in your heart for your neighbors and our animal friends that need our help, you won’t regret it. This is also a good opportunity to learn more about what services are available in our area. Please join us Feb. 6 at the courthouse, and/or help by donating items or buying raffle tickets. We need all the help we can get!

Candice Richards lives in Rockport.