Last Friday, I was driving home south along Western Avenue after a particularly grace-filled day. I almost passed the intersection where I make a left turn, because the traffic light was out.

As I entered the block where I live, I noticed all the streetlights were out. It was a blackout.

My mind started racing. It was dark, about 6 p.m. How long had the power been off? The mercury was already below 20 degrees and dropping.

Before I even drove around to the back of the house (the automatic garage door in the front was inoperable), I was wondering what I would be facing throughout the night.

Entering the house through the back door, it felt really cold. Moving quickly with nothing but my iPhone light as a guide, I went through the house, turning all the faucets on to a slow trickle to forestall any pipes freezing, should the outage persist.

I was wondering whom I should call, where I would sleep, how this might affect the next days' calendar -- not to mention that I was hungry and looking forward to cooking up a salmon fillet I had purchased a little earlier.

My mobile phone, I could keep charged from my car jack. If worse came to worst, I could hang out in the car or go back to the office, I supposed. Going online, I went to the National Grid website, where they were posting that a work crew was already assigned and restoration was scheduled for 8 p.m. As it turns out, the lights were back on by 7:15 p.m.

I offer this account of a brief personal inconvenience only to point out an irony: It occurred on the same day that the National Grid Foundation had presented Catholic Charities with a very generous donation of $120,000 for its Emergency Assistance Fund that would help an estimated 1,400 people in our area with energy issues.

When I received the check, I had thought about the many people who, because of high heating bills, are forced to make difficult choices between cutting back on food or medicine to pay for the heat.

Over the years, I have met with many people whose lives were deeply touched by the assistance they received at such times. We all know stories about how quickly any of our lives can be altered due to a sudden health crisis or a natural emergency or disaster.

I myself had been through blackouts before, including the great eastern blackout of November 1964, but never one in the middle of a winter like this. What if I had been a parent coming home to family member who had the flu during this long, cold winter?

This just brought home to me how quickly the comforts often taken for granted can vanish. It brought back memories of individuals and families I have known over the years who live this uncertainty each day about whether and where they would find the food, heat and necessary medications they needed to live.

In such emergencies, people naturally reach out to the folks at Catholic Charities, whom they know they can depend on for assistance. Catholic Charities, in turn, depends on the kind of generosity that its partnership with the National Grid Foundation has ensured for more than 10 years.

The reach of this collaboration extends even further because of the readiness of so many good people to help their neighbors in need by contributing to this Emergency Assistance Fund. You can help in a big way with an online gift at www.ccrcda.org.

Emergency assistance is a growing area for the mission of Catholic Charities throughout our Diocese and can take many forms: from heating and utility assistance to help in purchasing a bus ticket to attend a family funeral, paying for a car repair, getting a phone turned back on, or a ensuring that a needed repair is made to a house.

Some requests are as small as $20 to help pay for replacement ID cards, like a driver's license. For someone living in poverty, these small expenses can be very daunting. Every dollar donated to Catholic Charities' Emergency Assistance Fund will go to help someone in need in our communities. No gift is too small.

Catholic Charities helps all people, regardless of creed or background. If you need assistance or know someone who does, Catholic Charities helps all people, regardless of creed or background. If you need assistance or know someone who does, please reach out to your nearest Catholic Charities office.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)