October 01, 2001 11:00 pm

Americans are responding from their hearts to the attacks on America. We have a renewed sense of patriotism and we are opening our

pocketbooks like never before to help with relief efforts.

The tragedy of Sept. 11 will forever live in our minds and hearts, and we all must do everything we can to help rebuild Americas sense of security and to provide whatever support we can to the people most closely affected by the attacks. And Americans are doing just that. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has estimated that nearly $600 million has been raised for terrorism victims, with corporations and foundations contributing about $400 million. The American Red Cross alone has raised a record $200 million.

The response has been overwhelming. Americans do care about their fellow man. Anyone who suspects that Americans are a stingy lot need only look at the response to the Sept. 11 attacks to realize that we are a generous people.

We can only hope that Americans will not forget the needs of other non-profit organizations this year the holiday appeals that will be forthcoming, the food boxes that will need to be filled and all the other special fund-raisers that address local needs.

The attacks on the East Coast have diverted a lot of money that might have gone to local causes that, day in and day out, deserve our support. We cannot forget that while our hearts may be in New York and Washington, D.C., we must hold fast to a commitment to our communities, too.

A recent Associated Press story said that a regular donor to the San Francisco chapter of the Salvation Army asked that his $1.7 million contribution be sent to New York. Chapter officials worry that they might not have enough money to buy toys for 33,000 families in December or be able to fill food bags.

And while the American Red Cross is seeing record donations to its disaster relief fund, with all monies earmarked for disaster response, our local chapter is on the verge of closure due to a lack of funds.

The local United Way is laying low for the time being and hoping that in a few weeks community members will have the resources available to help meet the fall fund-raising goal that will help fund 12 local service agencies in 2002.

All charitable organizations understand the predicament our country has found itself in. No one would begrudge Americans generosity and willingness to do what they can for victims of last months attacks. And more likely than not, Americans wont forget the local causes when organizations come calling later this year and into next year. Americans are a generous people. When times get tough, they dig deeper and figure out how to provide help.