Cash-Poor Americans Find Other Ways to Give

new normal

Americans are generous people, donating more money to charity than any other country in the world. But in a recent ABC News poll almost half of those surveyed said they would give less money to charities this year.

Instead of writing a check, a lot of people are becoming more directly involved in helping others -- you could call this new normal, "person-to-person philanthropy."

VIDEO: After losing her job, Shirley told ABC News she feared her home would be next.
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Marilyn Mock is one example. She runs a stoneyard business with her family outside Dallas. She is a serious businesswoman, but some say she's also an angel.

Last Fall, Mock attended a foreclosure auction along with her son, who was getting ready to purchase his first house.

Tracy Orr was also at that auction, but for a drastically different reason. The home she'd owned for 20 years was up for auction. A period of unemployment left her behind on her mortgage, and Orr had come to watch as her precious home was sold to the highest bidder.

Mock noticed Orr in emotional distress and began talking to her.

"She was crying, and I just asked her what she was upset about, and you know, she lost her house," Mock said.

Orr's house was up for sale next, and without even knowing the location or price, Mock raised her hand to bid. Within minutes, the gavel fell at $30,000, sold to Marilyn Mock. But the split-second deal wasn't for her, it was for the sobbing woman she'd just befriended.

"I didn't even know what her name was," Mock said.

Mock admitted that she is not wealthy, but she had good credit. Using one of her company dump trucks as collateral, Mock borrowed the $30,000 and put Orr back in her home.

"It made me realize, to be grateful for what we got," said Orr, who said she is repaying Mock little by little, sending her whatever she can afford each month.

Mock has a reputation for generosity among her family and friends, and she said it is just something that comes naturally.

"If somebody gets a flat tire along the road, you pull over and stop to help," she said. "Sometimes it backfires on you and you'll be upset for two or three days. But then somebody else comes along that you see needs help, and you just go off again."

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Despite Bust Times, Volunteerism Is Booming

Mock must be on to something: Direct person-to-person giving seems to the on the rise, even as mainstream charities are struggling. Donations have dropped 30 percent this year, and some experts say as many as 100,000 charities could shut down over the next two years.

"This is going to be the most serious restructuring of the non-profit world that we have ever seen," said Stacy Palmer, editor in chief of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Although many people are more reluctant to write checks to charity, they are more likely than ever to contribute their sweat equity: volunteerism is booming.

Beth Shapiro, spokeswoman for Citymeals on Wheels in New York City, said her organization has seen an increase in volunteerism.

"Maybe people realize that there are others in this world who may be having an even harder time than they are," Shapiro said.

Volunteerism is rising even among the unemployed.

Emmanuel Touhy, who has been out of work since January, said he is pitching in at the DC Central Food Kitchen in Washington, D.C.

"You have to have that sense of optimism to say: Look at what I have and what I can do," Touhy said.

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