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Distress up, income down: Giving needed

Post by Kim Bradford on Nov. 26, 2008 at 6:20 pm with No Comments »
November 26, 2008 6:20 pm

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Thanksgiving is an ideal day to celebrate human generosity. Our communities need a holiday-sized helping of it now.

Economists have recently confirmed that the United States is officially in recession. Some point to early indicators of a particularly severe recession.

But South Sound nonprofits have been seeing the indicators for months. United Way of Pierce County, for example, maintains a hotline number – 211 – to connect people who urgent needs to agencies that can help them.

The line got 6,400 calls last month, an increase of 20 percent over the previous year. In July, the average caller had 1.5 "needs" – requests for shelter, food, utility assistance, etc. In August, the average hit 3.2, reflecting a surge in distress.

Basic sustenance is in shorter supply. The FISH Food Banks of Pierce County handled 31 percent more requests for food through September compared to 2007 – and was simultaneously hit with a 26 percent increase in the price of food.

The Emergency Food Network, which supplies most of the county’s food banks, routinely receives large quantities of goods from supermarkets and other stores. But retailers are feeling the squeeze, too, and some can’t give as much; one major donor has had to cut back from 80,000 pounds to 20,000 pounds a week. The network recently had to spend $30,000 to make up for the decline in donations.

That sums up the perverse cruelty of an economic downtown. When hard times come, more people are in need, and their needs are greater. But those same hard times make it harder for donors to give.

United Way distributed $3.1 million for the counties’ nonprofits last year. Giving has fallen off since then, and United Way is telling the agencies it helps fund to brace themselves for across-the-board cuts of 25 percent.

Generosity to the rescue. Often, American give more when the economy goes sour.

There are three ways we can step up the help to our distressed neighbors. Donors with means to do so could give more. Non-donors with the means could begin giving. And most of us – regardless of means – could give more of our time as volunteers.

This may not be a great year in terms of finances, but charity was never all about money.

Companies play an important role, too. Many large employers in Pierce County allow United Way to run fund-raising drives in the workplace. But some don’t. This would be a particularly good time for them to reconsider and open their doors to an organization that helps scores of agencies meet the most basic of human needs.

On Thanksgiving Day, we owe a special gratitude to those who are willing to reach deeper into their pockets and hearts when generosity is needed most.

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