Economic conditions continue to improve, albeit slowly. Spokane County’s unemployment rate is at its lowest level since December 2008. The state economic forecast calls for steady improvement.
Those indicators would seem to point to an increase in charitable giving during the holidays, but a recent Harris Interactive poll carried some counterintuitive results. More Americans plan to increase their spending on gifts and decrease their contributions to charity.
It’s only one survey, so it could be wrong. We hope people realize that there are still a lot of families in need. Charitable giving across the country has yet to return to the pre-recession levels. Since the Great Recession hit, food stamp use has risen in cities and rural areas alike. Hunger is a year-round issue; families struggle to buy their children Christmas gifts.
About 14 percent of Spokane County residents live beneath the poverty line. Nearly one in five youths can’t be sure where their next meal will come from. Conditions will worsen if Congress doesn’t head off the scheduled across-the-board budget cuts.
We’re not a wealthy region, but we’ve always had hearts that are bigger than our pocketbooks. There’s no better example than the Christmas Fund, which is a collaboration of Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review. This effort consistently meets its fundraising goals regardless of economic conditions.
Last year, more than 35,000 people visited the Christmas Bureau at the Spokane County fairgrounds and came away with toys for their children and vouchers for a decent holiday meal. The average income of these families was about $12,500. Starting on Dec. 12, people will begin lining up in hopes of finding relief.
For 67 years, our community has made this possible by donating cash, time or both. Nearly 400 volunteers will pitch in. The community knows that 96 percent of what they give goes directly to recipients. At some businesses, this is the biggest fundraiser of the year. Parents use the event to teach lessons of charity to their children. However, most kids need little prodding before busting open their piggy banks. They understand the thrill of anticipating a Christmas gift, and don’t want others to miss out.
If you’d like to contribute, drop off a donation at The Spokesman-Review’s offices in downtown Spokane (999 W. Riverside Ave.) or Coeur d’Alene (608 Northwest Blvd.) or mail them to Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund, P.O. Box 516, Spokane, WA 99210. You can also give online at www.spokesman.com/christmasfund.>
The Christmas Fund isn’t the only outlet for holiday compassion. Other prominent charities include Christmas Tree Elegance, Festival of Trees and Toys for Tots. And let’s not forget those Salvation Army bell ringers.
We know these acts of kindness offer only a small respite for families under continual stress, but it comes at an opportune time. As Rob McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities, said: “The crisis is there all year but it feels worse at Christmas because it’s not supposed to be like this.”