Archive for December, 2011

Remember the True Spirit of Christmas

The Christmas season’s economic headlines appear to be encouraging, with record numbers of shoppers heading out to Black Friday sales this year and overall consumer confidence at its highest level in a long time. After three years of recession, any sign that the economy is on the rebound is reason for excitement. But hopefully, the confidence Americans are showing this holiday season when it comes to shopping will also translate into generosity for others who continue to need help.

We must remember that the true spirit of Christmas is not about buying the latest electronic gadget for 50 percent off. This is also a time when we traditionally reflect on those who may not be able to afford presents under the Christmas tree, or who will be separated from loved ones during the holiday. It is a time of generosity toward others by giving of one’s spirit, not just giving material things … or shopping to give to oneself.

For many, the traditions of Christmas include helping the less fortunate – a spirit of giving that has taken a hit during the recession. Numbers recently published in a Wall Street Journal special report on philanthropy illustrate the decline during the recession. Between 2008 and 2010, overall giving to charity dropped 4.2 percent, which may not seem like a lot, but is painful when paired with sharp decreases in funding from government sources during the same period. And this comes at a time when recent research from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire estimates that nearly 1 in 4 children under the age of 6 now live in poverty in the United States.

My hope this year is that the growing enthusiasm for shopping doesn’t come at the expense of philanthropy. It’s so easy for people to argue that after three years of frugality and sacrifice they now deserve to reward themselves and have a little fun. But we must remember that not everyone can see a light at the end of the economic tunnel. While consumer confidence is up and the official U.S. unemployment rate actually dropped significantly over the past month, there are also indications that this drop is due not to the creation of new jobs, but to people simply giving up and dropping out of the workforce.

The importance of donations from individuals can never be overstated. Philanthropy makes a critical difference in the lives of people we serve. It helps us fill gaps in existing funding to create new services in response to emerging needs. Donations not only allow organizations like Volunteers of America to serve more people, but also to address the quality as well as the quantity of services. It is the factor that turns public housing into family homes, and makes the difference between simply keeping people alive and giving them a life.

At this time of year, we at Volunteers of America hope everyone will remember the true spirit of the holidays and focus on helping those in need. To help us make a difference in people’s lives, please visit www.voa.org/spiritofgiving.

– By Mike King, National President and CEO, Volunteers of America

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