AUSTIN The holiday season is traditionally the time Americans open their hearts and wallets a little wider for the needy. While most charities are seeing increased demand for their resources and services, they're facing stagnant or falling donation rates, according to a report from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

The dollars are being spread extra thin in Texas because of sweeping state budget cuts, says Bee Moorhead, who directs Texas Impact, a faith-based grassroots group. She calls it a "sign of the times" that public institutions are requesting help as though they were charities, citing this appeal from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Carter Smith, "If we're going to keep these special treasures open, we need to raise $4.6 million...."

She says, "When the state agencies start asking for charity, what that does to me is it makes me think the whole infrastructure has fallen to pieces."

The current state budget is "fundamentally dishonest," she says, because lawmakers knew it would prove inadequate. For example, she cites a $45 million shortfall in the state prison health care system, and $5.4 billion in cuts to public education. Moorhead also notes that OfficeMax is expanding its charitable campaign, soliciting school supplies for teachers who have been stocking classrooms with their own money.

In the past, Moorhead says, private givers assumed that their role was to help out in areas the public sector didn't address.

"We have a system. State agencies take care of our parks, our prisons. My charitable dollars are to extend whatever we can't do together as the body politic."

While many lawmakers this year claimed success in balancing the budget without raising new revenues, Moorhead suggests voters make New Year's resolutions to contact their representatives with reactions to the fallout.

"They should know how their constituents feel when they walk into the store to buy their kid new pencils and they see a sign that says teachers are essentially a welfare case and need to have donations made."

Next March, the Texas Education Agency is expected to release an official report detailing the effects of budget cuts on schools. Moorhead says anecdotal evidence of individuals picking up the slack is just as meaningful.

The full Center of Philanthropy report is available at http://bit.ly/vXqwkz. The Parks and Wildlife appeal is at www.tpwd.state.tx.us, and the OfficeMax appeal is at http://bit.ly/tQVC30.