Since its launch in 1998, The Patriot Ledger’s Lend a Hand fund has distributed more than $2.8 million in contributions from our readers to those in our community who need help with life’s essentials. This is our 20th year, and we hope it’s another good one. The stock market isn’t booming for everyone.

We come at this time each year seeking your help. We share stories of those in need to make clear there are real people in need of real help. You have never let us down.

In the coming weeks, we’ll share stories of those doing all in their power to maintain a job or keep the heat on, buy clothes for their children or repair an old car to get an ill child to doctors’ appointments each week.

In Randolph are a couple whose baby born with a heart defect and only one functioning lung. The parents don't dare leave her side, even when she's sleeping, but a video monitor would let them step out of the room once in a while to spend some time with their 4-year-old son.

Then there's the Quincy family of three young children who can't communicate. A 3-year-old has autism and 19-month-old twins are developmentally delayed. They struggle with medical bills and want nothing more than new car seats to keep the growing twins safe during car rides to therapy appointments.

We’ll also bring you stories about people whose lives you’ve changed through your donations. Among them was a woman in Plymouth who says she was blown away by the kindness of strangers who helped pay her mortgage just before the holidays. That gave her a chance to focus on providing Christmas for her two young boys.

For many of us living on the South Shore, hard work and good fortune have enabled us to comfortably care for ourselves and our families. Yet some of our neighbors have worked just as hard, but fortune hasn’t been so kind. That’s why we come to you.

Lend a Hand is different from other holiday appeals because 100 percent of your donations go directly to our partner aid agencies, South Shore Community Action Council Inc., Quincy Community Action Programs and South Shore Mental Health. (The only exception is a small fee charged by credit card companies.) The Ledger and its employees donate all of the time and resources, from news coverage to accounting services to website support. Not a penny has ever gone to staff or other overhead.

Starting today, we ask for your help again. You may give online via our secure website, tear a coupon from the paper and mail it in, or call our partner agencies directly.

You can write a check, donate through PayPal or simply call our friends at Ansaphone in Quincy, who are generously donating their services again this year, at 617-424-9825. If you choose to honor a loved one with a donation, a great holiday gesture, we’ll publish your names and theirs in the newspaper and on our website.

To borrow a line from Dickens, we choose this time because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.

What shall we put you down for?

HOW YOU CAN HELP

LAST YEAR'S DONORS