There’s something about turning the calendar to November that puts extra focus on the needs of those who are less fortunate.
The U.S. Census Bureau puts St. Joseph’s poverty rate at 18%, or nearly 1 in 5 people, compared to the national rate of 11%. They aren’t just poor in the last two months of the year, but the colder, shorter days add to the stress for those who struggle to pay for heating or provide for family during the holiday season.
This is one reason — along with the Dec. 31 deadline for tax deductions — why charitable activity picks up around this time of year. On Thursday this week, the United Way of Greater St. Joseph celebrates its $2.4 million annual campaign, which kicked off around Labor Day. The agency raises money to support 17 partner agencies, as well as seven initiatives aimed at critical issues like early childhood education, prescription drug assistance and various unmet needs.
Other charitable campaigns kick into gear at this time of year.
AFL-CIO Community Services begins accepting applications on Nov. 1 for its Adopt-a-Family Christmas Program. Since the mid-1970s, Adopt-A-Family has relied on the generosity of the St. Joseph community to make sure all children can get something under the tree on Christmas morning. Even during the pandemic last year, the agency was able to get all 748 families adopted.
In addition, the Salvation Army will launch its annual bell-ringing campaign on Friday.
Through the years, we’ve heard that St. Joseph is a generous community. This is a true statement, but it shouldn’t gloss over the challenges that nonprofits face in today’s environment.
The United Way raised more than $3 million in its campaign seven years ago. Last year’s Salvation Army kettle campaign came up a bit short of its goal of around $126,000.
The Giving USA Foundation found that charitable giving increased 5% nationwide in 2020, a remarkable feat during a time of pandemic. The Giving USA report credits a buoyant stock market, but it also noted that the coronavirus increased the demand for services at a local level.
Those demands aren’t expected to go away. This year’s season of giving comes at a time when many Americans will face the aggravation of products that are hard to find because of supply chain snags across the globe, a problem illustrated by the cargo ship backup on the West Coast.
Americans, accustomed to fully stocked shelves, have little experience dealing with the economics of scarcity. Maybe the struggles of those who are truly in need will help us put these inconveniences into perspective. Perhaps our own experiences with shortages will spark a greater spirit of giving this season.