Our country stakes its identity on a few basics: a job, a home, an education.

In the long days of this roiling economic crisis, those are threatened. And as a result, so is the American Dream for many.

Last week, we told the story of a young couple living in a tent with their small child. Only one person was working, all of their belongings were crammed into their car and their child fell asleep under the stars each night -- not by choice.

We also reported on the woman who used to wear a business suit to the office. The suit is now in the back of the closet, and her waitress uniform is what she spends most days wearing.

Ask almost anyone and they can tell about someone who has lost a job, taken a pay cut or simply needs a helping hand. The government is trying to stop the bleeding, and whether you agree with the bailout or not, America is a damsel in distress. And we, her strong and resilient children, will have to come to the rescue.

Remember how all of this began? A slow housing market, rising foreclosure rates and high gas prices.

The economic ripple swelled to a tsunami, wiping out venerable Wall Street names and Main Street confidence.

In good times, talk of homeless Americans generally elicited some sympathy, but in many cases, more questions than offers to assist.

Experts on homelessness often cite the causes as mental illness, drug abuse and a system that does not always adequately care for its military veterans. The average age of America's homeless population is 40-something years old.

But the person standing on the corner asking you to care may not fall into those categories. Not these days.

Why does it matter anyway? Will you stop long enough to ask what brought them to this point?

And will you consider this: it may not be your story today, but that doesn't mean it can't be.

For more information on St. Patrick Center, a St. Louis-based organization that provides services to the homeless, click here or call 314-436-5475.

Additionally, Operation Food Search now has a distribution center at 115 May Road in Wentzville, Mo.

Food, clothing and personal care items will be distributed at the new center.

Operation Food Search said the new center, which will distribute food, clothing and personal care items, will expand its services to the St. Charles County area.

For more information or to help at Operation Food Search - St. Charles, contact Karen Gladieux at 636-544-3500.

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