Union Democrat staff

Every few months some magazine or organization releases one of those "best places to live" lists and we scramble through the pages to find out if we made the cut.

Is our climate good enough? Are the schools up to snuff? Are the local parks beautiful and green? How's the live music scene? Do we have enough cops, firefighters and baristas?

But these surveys do not take into account more important questions: Are we generous to the those in need? Are we willing to step in when government doesn't? Do we support our kids and their activities? Is there a sense of community?

In Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, the answer to all these questions is a resounding yes. That they remain so in these trying economic times is further evidence of an intrinsic value tourists or even researchers are likely to miss.

Want proof? Just look at the calendar:

• On Aug. 22, a train ride, dinner and auction at Railtown 1987 Historic State Park in Jamestown raised more than $59,000 for Meals on Wheels, which annually serves about 60,000 meals to hundreds of homebound seniors.

• In mid-August, a mailer sent to 4,500 Twain Harte residents drew $24,000 in contributions as partial match for a $75,000 grant aimed at brush and fire-fuel clearing near Twain Harte Lake. The campaign was organized by Twain Harte Partners, a coalition of agencies and service organizations in the area.

• On Sept. 5, the Logging Jamboree raised $10,000 for the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum in White Pines. Thousands of dollars work, help and donations from local businesses, said Museum President Ginny Kafka, helped make the jamboree a success.

• On Saturday, the Calaveras Cancer Support Group raised funds with a coed softball tournament, dinner and drawing in Angels Camp, a New Christie Minstrels concert at Bret Harte High benefitted school music programs, and proceeds from a Pars for Paws golf tournament at Saddle Creek went to the Tuolumne and Calaveras county humane societies.

Giving will only increase in the days ahead:

• On Sept. 19, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park will host a Wine and Cheese Benefit and train ride, beginning at 4 p.m. at the Jamestown park. For reservations, call 984-3953. Proceeds will benefit park improvements.

• On Sept. 25, the Historic Sonora Chamber of Commerce will sponsor a concert by Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas in the Sonora High School auditorium. For tickets, call 588-9626. Proceeds go to the Todd Schroeder Young Artists Grant Program at Sonora High and the Julie Hulet Fund at Sonora Elementary School.

• On Sept. 26, a car show and chili cook-off at Kinematic Automation in Crystal Falls will benefit special needs children. For information on the 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. event, call 532-3200.

• On Sept. 27, the Tuolumne County Association of Realtors is sponsoring the Light Your Fire Chili Cook-Off and Car Show to benefit Interfaith Community Social Services. The Sunday cook-off will run from 1 to 4 p.m. at Tuolumne Veterans Memorial Hall, with chili-tasting tickets running $5 for children and $10 for adults. Interfaith provides food, clothing, household supplies, firewood and more for the community's less fortunate.

• On Oct. 3, the Sonora High School Foundation will skewer longtime community leader, cowboy and posse leader Ty Wivell in the name of charity. Proceeds from the 5:30 p.m. Sonora Opera Hall roast, dinner and silent auction will benefit Trek for the Track, a campaign aimed at installing new lights and an all-weather track at the high school's Dunlavy Field. Tickets are $30 apiece or $50 a couple, and are available at the school or by calling 536-2009. The foundation has already raised $200,000 and hopes to more than double that amount by next summer.

And the above are only a month's worth of fund-raisers that over each year touch almost every corner of our Mother Lode communities.

No, we may not make all of those "best places" lists, but the generosity that has become part of our landscape is evidence why we have all chosen to live here.