By Rep. Linda Runbeck
America is a giving nation. In fact, it ranked second overall in 2015’s World Giving Index. We say we’re blessed and show it by sharing. Seventy-two percent of charitable contributions come directly from individuals.
I got to thinking about this as my husband and I sat down to talk about our year-end donations. We have a couple of rules of thumb. First, help family and friends. Then, help organizations where we have a first-hand personal connection. Finally, help organizations directly involved with our local community.
We’ve found that in giving, when you “keep it local,” everybody benefits. The recipient receives tangible forms of assistance but also benefits from positive relationships, role models, and a support network. The giver has the assurance of knowing their contributions are assisting real people with identified needs. And the community benefits because resources are expended in the immediate area.
So, in putting our giving plan together, my husband and I started with our local church (nationally, around 33 percent of donations are to religious organizations). Then we turned our attention to other organizations in our area that are valuable community assets. Everybody has their favorite organizations, but in our area, I’d like to mention a few standouts.
Chain of Lakes YMCA – Our local Y is making big investments in our community. It’s on track to raise $100,000 in 2016 so needy kids and families can go to camp, take swimming lessons, take classes and work out.
Education foundations – Our school districts, Centennial, White Bear and Forest Lake each have a non-profit arm that raises money for scholarships for graduating seniors, for youth leadership training programs, and so much more.
Youthway Ministries – This locally-founded organization in the Centennial area gives kids a wide range of support programs, from homework help to giving and repairing kids’ bikes.
Service clubs – Our local Rotary and Lions Clubs are longstanding service clubs whose fundraising is the backbone of civic engagement.
Food Shelves and Yellow Ribbon Networks– The Hugo Good Neighbors Food Shelf and Yellow Ribbon Network do outstanding work. Likewise, in Anoka County, the Centennial Food Shelf and the new Lino Lakes Yellow Ribbon Network are blessed with dedicated volunteers.
There is no substitute for local charities such as these. They connect people in our communities, they raise and spend local dollars on local projects and help in short-term situations where people are in need.
Their role contrasts dramatically with state public assistance programs. State programs, while providing a necessary safety net function, are not charities. They lack the ability to connect people to their communities or to altruistic volunteers; they are ill-equipped to regularly determine recipients’ true need; the assistance comes without a personal touch which generates in the long-term recipient an attitude of entitlement rather than gratitude.
Indeed, individual charitable giving is one of key distinguishing feature of our generous American society. And yet, it's sometimes overlooked because we think someone else (governments or mega-charities) are taking care of it.
Christmas is the best time to reconsider our charitable giving – starting with non-profits at the local level. The holidays have a way of increasing the strain many citizens feel in making ends meet and any contributions we can make are very much appreciated. Minnesota is among the nation's leaders in charitable contributions, so join a cause, set an example for young ones and feel grateful for the blessings we share. And remember, if you can't afford to give money, you can donate time to assist those who need a hand.
Happy holidays, and please be safe as you travel to spend extra time with family and friends.