In our culture, December is always a time of giving. It's also a time when many people count the blessings they have come to take for granted.
But this year, when hurricane-force winds and drenching rains pounded coastal communities throughout Oregon and Washington, December became a time of trial and hardship.
Homes were flooded. Electricity was knocked out. Thousands were left without those things we take for granted - food, shelter and warmth.
At the American Red Cross, we constantly prepare for disasters. But no matter how much training we do, and no matter how well we plan, we cannot do our work alone.
Last month, 485 Red Cross workers - 88 percent of whom were volunteers - helped to ease suffering all along the northern Oregon coast.
They set up shelters, served more than 88,000 meals and snacks, and visited homes to make sure that those who stayed behind in their residences weren't abandoned in the cold and the dark.
Yet it takes more than willing hands and trained specialists to help communities recover.
It requires the help of community organizations, like the Vernonia Victims Assistance Team and the Columbia Action Team.
The Red Cross was also fortunate to be the recipient of corporate support that arrived in a wide and welcome number of ways.
Some companies, such as Intel Corp., contributed both financial resources and volunteers. Other organizations - among them Safeway and the Portland Trail Blazers - helped us raise money.
Just as important were donations of goods and services that arrived in packages large and small.
Wal-Mart provided trucks filled with bottled water and snacks; Home Depot and Lowe's both stepped up to contribute supplies for rebuilding. AAA Oregon/Idaho provided maps - crucial in helping our workers get supplies to the right places in a timely manner.
Looking back, we've helped thousands of Oregonians cope with the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster by providing everything from cleaning supplies to mental health evaluations.
That assistance may have come through the American Red Cross, but in reality, it was a gift from those in Oregon and around the country who donated to the Disaster Relief Fund.
But we can't stop there. Though disasters of this size and scale don't happen every day, your local Red Cross chapter relies on your generosity to help us respond to emergencies around the state every 12 hours - big or small, house fire or ice storm.
As the residents of Vernonia, Tillamook and other communities along the coast begin to recover and rebuild, I wish we could promise that they will not face another emergency anytime soon.
We can't do that. But with your support, we can promise that if disaster strikes, the Red Cross will be there to help.
Thomas Bruner is the regional executive for the American Red Cross, Oregon Chapters. To contact the Oregon Trail Chapter (Portland), the office is located at 3131 N. Vancouver St., Portland, OR 97227; phone number is 503-284-1234; and the Web site is www.redcross-pdx.org.