Readers sometimes tell me this column is a calm island in a storm-tossed sea, a tiny patch of sunlight in a dark and gloomy landscape. They suggest this is something I create, and while that’s true to a point, I think it’s more accurate to say it’s something we both create: writer and reader.

What I mean is: We’re all in this together.

Nowhere is that more true than with The Washington Post Helping Hand, which has been a fixture in this space every holiday season since 2014. It’s the latest incarnation of a Washington Post fundraising tradition that goes back more than 70 years.

Since the very beginning, we’ve raised money the old-fashioned way, one reader at a time. And when I start the Helping Hand campaign each November, I never really know how much money we’ll have raised by January.

This is all a roundabout way of getting to the point: This year, Washington Post readers blasted us through our $250,000 Helping Hand goal, donating a total of $294,629 to Bright Beginnings, N Street Village and So Others Might Eat. That’s the most we’ve ever raised.

Over the past three years, Post readers have given $816,666 to these three groups. Since we launched Helping Hand six years ago, readers have donated $1,444,183. That’s money given to help people who live here.

This was the final year with these three charity partners. This coming summer I will invite applications for the next three-year Helping Hand cycle. If you work at, volunteer with or have been helped by a D.C.-area nonprofit that does vital work in poverty, homelessness or education, please keep an eye out for the announcement.

Finally, I want to thank all of the clients who allowed me into their homes, shared their stories and allowed me to share them with readers. I want to thank the dedicated staff members at So Others Might Eat, N Street Village and Bright Beginnings, too. They are changing lives.

If you donated, so are you. Thank you.

Hang time

The past few days I’ve been writing about prized items — rings, mostly — that were lost and then found. Most of the recoveries were due to happenstance, coincidence and blind luck.

But Raoul Drapeau of Ashburn, Va., used something else to find wife Connie’s missing engagement ring: science!

Connie realized her ring had vanished when she looked down at her hands while fixing dinner one night. “A frantic search of the car, the house and retracing of her steps found nothing,” Raoul wrote.

This was during one of our area’s periodic cicada summers and a few days later, while Connie was weeding the garden, one of the red-eyed bugs landed near her hand. This triggered a memory. Earlier in the week she and Raoul had been in a park in Vienna, Va., when she mindlessly swatted at a cicada that had landed on her leg.

The cicada flew off. The ring must have, too.

“I remembered a story that I had read many years previously about a Marine who was disassembling his handgun for cleaning [when] a spring-loaded part flung itself away,” Raoul wrote. “He had the bright idea of gathering his friends and duplicating the incident, with everyone looking where the equivalent part would go. Sure enough, they saw it arc up and away and found it right next to the lost one.”

The couple went back to the park. Connie put a cheap ring on her finger and duplicated the swatting motion.

Wrote Raoul: “Sure enough, the ring soared high and when it landed, her engagement ring was close by.”

A surprise in the mail

“I am sending this to you anonymously,” read the unsigned letter that arrived for me at work this week. It was from a woman whose purse was stolen last year while she was on vacation with her husband in Madrid. Besides the usual stuff — cash, credit cards, driver’s license, family photos — the purse contained her AA chip. That’s the medallion from Alcoholics Anonymous that marks the recipient’s successful sobriety. It’s a symbol of the constant struggle that is recovery and the importance of every milestone.

“Almost all of it could — and was — easily replaced, including the chip,” wrote the reader. “Back in the States two months later, I got an envelope in the mail from the Spanish consulate in D.C.”

Inside was the missing license, some photos and papers — and the AA chip.

“I can’t tell you why the return of my original chip meant so much to me, but it did,” she wrote. “Whoever returned it to me has my heartfelt thanks.”

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.