In January 1947, a new column debuted in The Washington Post. It was called “The District Line” and it was written by Bill Gold.

Gold’s column — a daily compendium of local anecdotes and observations — was an immediate hit. The column you’re reading now is the grandchild of “The District Line,” a tradition that was passed down from Gold to Bob Levey to me.

From the very beginning, this column has encouraged readers to support worthy charities in our community — and it’s helped them do so. Below, I’ll describe the clever way this all started, 72 years ago.

But, first, let’s talk about now. Today this effort is called The Washington Post Helping Hand. It’s my annual fundraising drive for three local nonprofit groups: N Street Village, Bright Beginnings and So Others Might Eat.

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For the next eight weeks, I’ll be sharing stories of these organizations and the people they serve in the hope that you’ll take out your credit card or checkbook and make a donation. Our goal is to raise $250,000 by Jan. 3. With your help, we can. (To make an online contribution to any of the charities, visit posthelpinghand.com and click “Donate.”)

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What can I tell you about our charity partners? So Others Might Eat is one of the city’s busiest charities, offering a literal and metaphorical menu of services to people who are experiencing homelessness. SOME serves meals to the hungry from its headquarters on O Street NW. It also operates a health clinic and runs an addiction treatment program in West Virginia. SOME oversees hundreds of housing units across the city, too.

To give to SOME the old-fashioned way, make a check payable to “So Others Might Eat” and send it to SOME, Attn: Helping Hand, 71 O St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

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N Street Village offers similar services, but to a clientele that faces unique hardships on the street: women. Its flagship headquarters near Logan Circle includes a safe space where women experiencing homelessness can spend the day. There, they can enjoy a meal, wash their clothes, take a shower, rest. And they can participate in the other programs N Street Village offers, including mental wellness programs, access to health care and addiction recovery services, and housing.

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To donate by mail, make a check payable to “N Street Village” and send it to N Street Village, Attn: Helping Hand, 1333 N St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.

Bright Beginnings is an early-childhood center in Southeast Washington. Many of the infants and toddlers in its program were born into families experiencing homelessness. The teachers at Bright Beginnings work to get these children ready for kindergarten.

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But that’s only part of the story. Bright Beginnings has a two-generation approach to combating poverty. While children go to its preschool, parents participate in its educational programming. Moms and dads learn life skills their parents may not have taught them.

To contribute by mail, make a check payable to “Bright Beginnings” and send it to: Bright Beginnings, Attn: Helping Hand, 3418 Fourth St. SE, Washington, D.C. 20032.

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So, how did a daily column devoted to the ins and outs of living in the Washington area find itself in the fundraising business? Our story starts in May 1947. That’s when Capital Transit — the company that operated Washington’s streetcars — increased its fares from eight cents per ride to 10 cents.

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Switching to dimes instantly invalidated all the existing tokens, those little metal disks riders had been dropping into trolley fareboxes. The company estimated that some 150,000 old — and now obsolete — tokens were still in customers’ hands.

Capital Transit announced it would pay six cents for each eight-cent token that riders redeemed. For many people, it wasn’t worth the effort. Then a reader named W.J. Barbrick of Northwest D.C. wrote to Bill Gold with a suggestion: Why not send the old tokens to Children’s Hospital, which was in the midst of trying to raise $1.3 million to construct a new building?

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A token here or there wouldn’t amount to much, but pooled together they would add up. Soon, tokens were arriving at the hospital, then located at 13th and W streets NW. They came pouring into The Post, too, where Bill Gold dutifully tallied them. Some of the envelopes also included checks for Children’s Hospital.

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And when the tokens stopped dribbling in, the checks kept coming.

Over the decades, Post readers donated millions of dollars to Children’s Hospital. Five years ago, The Post introduced Helping Hand, where we select three different charities to support for three years. Then we pick another three.

It’s a way of spreading the wealth. Since 2014, Post readers have donated $1.1 million to Helping Hand.

I’d be very thankful if you would help us carry on this worthwhile tradition.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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