Ideally, charity should be a quiet gift, offered unceremoniously, with neither desire nor need for notoriety.
This kind of charity still flourishes among individuals -- the person who donates an afternoon at a shelter, carries a basket of food to a struggling family or slips a few dollars in an elderly friend's pocket.
But these small efforts are becoming something of an endangered species, as the number of organized non-profit groups and charities multiply.
From the United Way to Bea Gaddy's soup kitchen, a high profile and institutional structure is a must in the business of philanthropy. Charities depend on donations, and people donate those charities they know.
Mrs. Gaddy's projects, for instance, thrive in large part because people think of her when they think of giving. No one who saw footage of the Thanksgiving dinner she put on for 18,000 homeless people last November can argue the merits of that strategy.
But as a recent Evening Sun story explained, small charities, such as the one run by Anthony and Angela Franquelli of Severn, provide a more modest, intimate kind of assistance. The Franquellis' charity is called Simple Sacrifice for the Homeless. They have made considerable sacrifices to keep it afloat. For help, they rely only on their two teen-agers. Despite financial and health problems, they spend 40 hours a week making bag lunches and distributing them to 300 to 500 Baltimore homeless -- except when they don't have enough money to make the lunches, as happened twice in the past month.
This is a lean time for Simple Sacrifice, which, like all charities, watches donations dry up during the summer. A higher profile and more formal set-up would bring in more money. But the Franquellis do not want that. Even among the charitably minded, they belong to the few who enjoy one-on-one contact and do not wish to lose it by becoming bigger.
The rest of us need to remember these small charities. The Maryland Food Committee (366-0600) can provide information about how to reach them; a few dollars, some foodstuffs -- such modest donations go a long way.
Quiet givers may never do anything as flashy as stage a huge holiday dinner. But as far as the needy are concerned, what they do day to day and week to week is every bit as important.