Philanthropy a measure of generosity, not income

Church groups and ministries and other dedicated, (not necessarily religious) volunteers, who make up the moral backbone of any community, lead by example. They don’t wring hands; they feed people. They help house homeless people, rather that worrying how such a person might somehow harm them. They focus on human dignity, and our commonality, not on another person’s perceived offensiveness and assumed criminality.

Fortunately, Snohomish County has many such individuals and groups, and they are inspirational.

The inspiration is especially true, and welcome, during these times when we learn, for example, that one result of the recession is that wealthy Americans are giving less of their incomes to charity, while poor are donating more, according to a report by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Higher-income people tend to give proportionately less during tough economic times, said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. “The downturn was a shock to so many of them, and they’ve been nervous and cautious,” she said.

On the other hand, “Lower and middle-income people know people who lost their jobs or are homeless, and they worry that they themselves are a day away from losing their jobs. They’re very sensitive to the needs of other people and recognize that these years have been hard,” Palmer said.

Want a local example? Recently, Herald writer Eric Stevick profiled the people — the many, many volunteers — behind Annie’s Community Kitchen, a ministry of Edmonds Lutheran Church, which has been providing a free dinner each Wednesday for 10 years, for whoever shows up. For most, physical hunger is the reason for showing up; for others, it’s a chance to experience a sense of community and to socialize. (To paraphrase Mother Teresa, “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”)

Annie Fortnum, 83, namesake of the kitchen and catalyst for the charity, told Stevick a anecdote seemingly straight out of the Chronicle of Philanthropy report: The other day, a regular visitor to the Wednesday gatherings handed Fortnum a $500 check, explaining that she’d received a modest inheritance. It was an affirming moment for Fortnum to see someone who’d received help be so willing to offer help.

The First Presbyterian Church in Everett also serves meals on Wednesdays. Feeding people means they are no longer nameless or faceless. Caring for others is what many people mean by “community.”

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