A Thank You -- and a Plea

In a year of amazing stock gains, the best return you can have is in giving to the less fortunate.
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I'd been planning to write a warm little Christmas Eve note here, thanking all the

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readers who have taken time this year to write with their suggestions, their comments, their praise and criticism.

I have often said, and it's really true, that the reader mail I get is the best part of this job. I learn so much from readers' missives that a simple reply to these notes isn't adequate. With a hundred or so emails a day from

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readers, more than a few words of reply is usually impossible. If you are among the thousands who wrote this year, know how much I value your input.

And, yes, even your occasional snarls. Those letters that begin, "You moron..." and go downhill fast have their value, too -- at least as a barometer of reader interest. (And the number of good people who follow up notes like that a day or two later with a spontaneous apology and go on to become, in some cases, regular correspondents is striking:

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attracts a civilized bunch.)

Tech Savvy: Join the discussion on

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message boards.

Anyway, I was thinking about how to write a thank-you note for readers' feedback without getting soppy, and also how to slip in something about the real meaning of Christmas, when I got a note from a

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subscriber in the Northeast. It hit me that he exemplified so well the kind of people we have as

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readers.

He was trying out

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as a trial subscriber at this time last year. Didn't know much about investing, hadn't done much of it.

He saw my column on recommended stocks for 1999. He didn't know much about most of the companies listed. But, he decided, the suggestion came from an apparently credible source, so he gambled a little: He bought some of those stocks.

A year later, he was floored by his gains. Is the market always like this?

After thinking hard about those gains, he decided he wanted to turn some of them into cash and do something worthwhile with the money. So he cashed in some of the fatter positions and gave the proceeds away to a bunch of youth charities in his area.

He wanted to thank me, he said, for the suggestions ... and he wanted me to know that because of me, lots of kids would be playing soccer and baseball and so on in his area next spring, kids who would never have had that chance otherwise.

As I know he well understood, those kids aren't going to be scoring runs and goals because of me, but because of him. He was the one who did the right thing.

I'd say he gets the idea of Christmas better than anyone I know.

So if I have a suggestion to go along with my thanks to you this Christmas: Think about emulating his example. Consider, as we close out this extraordinary year in which many of us had returns beyond our wildest imaginings, sharing some of what we gained this year with others.

Kids, the homeless, people who won't have to worry about matching stock purchases and sales, or taking losses for tax purposes, or worrying about short-term vs. long-term gains.

People who didn't have a good year at all.

That will multiply your real return this year by a factor far greater, and far longer lasting, than anything you report to the

IRS

.

Where do you find those people? Right around you. Literally.

My wife and son and I take an occasional night shift on a truck called

Mobile Loaves and Fishes

, which takes food, hot drinks, warm clothing, blankets, fresh underwear, warm hats, clean socks, toothbrushes, razors and more around our city to street people.

We thought, when we began this program a year or so ago, that we'd have trouble finding people to help. Aren't the neediest already in shelters?

Foolish, foolish thought.

They're everywhere in our city -- and in yours, too. If you think you don't have homeless people living on the streets, behind warehouses, under bridges, in parks and in wrecked cars, you haven't looked.

Public agencies? Sure, they help. And we have great ones here, from municipal agencies to the

Salvation Army

.

But if they're doing the whole job, tell me why we find hundreds of people every night who need a hand, who are just not part of this glorious market economy you and I love to praise? Not because they're lazy; because they hit a streak of bad luck, because of alcoholism, because of mental illness -- because they fell through the safety net you and I like to think we've constructed with our agencies and programs and charities.

Anyway, give it a thought. This Christmas, not next.

Best wishes for a warm, close, memorable Christmas for you and your family.

And keep those cards and letters coming, folks.

Jim Seymour is president of Seymour Group, an information-strategies consulting firm working with corporate clients in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and a longtime columnist for PC Magazine. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. At time of publication, neither Seymour nor Seymour Group held positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Seymour does not write about companies that are current or recent consulting clients of Seymour Group. While Seymour cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites your feedback at

jseymour@thestreet.com.