THEY SAY that when it comes to private charitable giving, Greater Washington has not ranked among the country's top metropolitan areas, in large part because of the relatively few huge corporate headquarters that are located here. Put that up against tough economic times for businesses, employees and the newly jobless, and you have the makings of an unusually rough season for charities. But not so this year: the people of the region rose to the occasion. While other cities have been struggling to meet previous levels of giving, not to speak of filling the greater needs evident this season, Greater Washington has shown a heartwarming generosity.

The biggest annual giving effort, the United Way/United Black Fund partnership, enjoyed what has to be considered a spectacular campaign this time around, given the circumstances. When the tally was announced earlier this month, the organization had received more than $72 million -- up 5 percent over last year. Officials said the national capital area campaign was the fourth largest such fund-raiser. But what pleased them as much was the spread of contributions. Money came from every corner of the city and suburbs, including some of the neighborhoods with the largest needs.

The region's umbrella coalition for donations to youngsters, Toys for Tots, was in terrible shape only weeks ago. Officials there were reporting glumly that donations were down 96 percent compared with last year. The fear was that many children here would receive no toys at all. But word spread, and people showed up from everywhere with loaded arms, sacks, cars and even big trucks to bring the campaign right back up to the top. The Marine Corps Reserve, which conducts the drive, sends thanks.

While the seasonal news is good, the year-round need in Greater Washington is constant. Anyone who missed this fine seasonal flurry of generosity should know that all channels remain open for donations to continue their good works. Decisions about giving are necessarily a matter of individual choice, but the causes deserving support are many and the need to give never stops.