Tis The Reason

In these times, nonprofits and philanthropic organizations get hit hard.

By Philadelphia Weekly Editorial Staff
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Nov. 19, 2008

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Illustrations by Zach O'Hora

'Tis the Reason

The day after Barack Hussein Obama was declared 44th president of the United States, spirits were high.

Maureen Dowd wrote a column in The New York Times about the fact that white people were running around asking black people how they felt about the election. She guiltily admitted she did it herself; when she asked her mailman, he looked at her with "bemused disdain."

Jon Stewart joked that people were actually making eye contact in New York City, even on the subway.

Philadelphians, flush with pride after a World Series win and a strong swing-state showing, were jubilant. People on SEPTA transport of all kinds were smiling, high- fiving and talking excitedly about the next four years. People proudly sported their "I Voted for Change" stickers, and waited for the inevitable street-hawking of T-shirts showing Obama in a Phillies cap.

And yet, on Nov. 6, things were essentially back to normal, at least in Philly. When a woman holding a baby was unable to high-five a passing guy about the World Series (because she was holding the baby), he called her a bitchface.

Interracial squabbling returned to normal on SEPTA, and car horns stopped beeping in joy and solidarity and returned to blasting with punitive irritation.

Ah, Philly. How quickly the silver tarnishes.

The quick shift in mood almost certainly had to do with a reality that Obama was all too aware of, having won the election based on its grinding fact: The economy is simply awful. Recession, depression--whatever it is, if we could dig up Franklin D. Roosevelt and prop him in a Rascal right now we probably would.

There are obvious casualties of an economic downturn--children have less to eat, jobs dry up, homes lose value, people are forced to leave what they know and venture into the unknown.

The last thing they want to do, between job searches and panic attacks, is send money to a charity. Membership drives make people homicidal; I have an umbrella already, thanks. What I don't have is a job.

In these times, nonprofits and philanthropic organizations get hit hard. Charity is seen as a luxury, and donations--along with magazine subscriptions--are the first thing to go. In Saturday's New York Times, M.P. Dunleavy wrote, "The fallout from the financial crisis is striking nonprofit groups and charities fast and hard. As much as people might like to sit still until their own finances feel stable again, many nonprofit agencies need additional support now."

That's because needs for services surge when the economy is bad. "We have seen an increased need from people who are facing foreclosure, job loss and decreased work hours," the Rev. Michael M. Boland, chief executive of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, told Dunleavy. "We have seen an increase in the number of requests for our emergency services, which include food pantries and hot dinners for the hungry and homeless."

When you decide to be Charitable despite your hardships, it's sometimes hard to know where to start, and for which cause. And many people think giving to charities is only about money, which then makes them retreat, with a guilty shrug.

Fortunately, you can give meaningfully without opening your wallet. For this year's holiday guide, PW decided to focus on nine charities that we strongly feel deserve your time or attention or--hell, if you've got it--your money.

We start with a feature on the Philadelphia Student Union, an organization founded by Philadelphia public high school kids who got fed up with being at the whims of the School District. Their remarkable story is told by college student Becca Trabin, who was so inspired by what these kids are trying to do, she absolutely insisted we feature them at length.

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1. Jeff O'Hora said... on Dec 9, 2008 at 04:07AM

“A great, timely feature article I enjoyed reading as well as learning about creative, grassroots efforts to address the needs within the Philly region. I was surprised however not to see at the top of your list, The Salvation Army, which probably has the most profound and wide reaching impact on the needs of the underserved in Philly more than any other organization. I thought Liz that you've hit upon something here with your observations about the glee and elation surrounding the election of Barack Obama and how quickly that mirth and exuberance gave way to society as usual. And so it will be with the passing of the Christmas spirit with the arrival of the credit card statements in January. And the beat goes on. And so too do the growing needs of many in this difficult economic climate. And with all due respect to the incumbent President elect, there will be no 'Miracle On 34th Street" coming to a neighborhood near you any time soon. So despite the likelihood of a rather prolonged period of economic malaise and all it's repercussions at the individual human level, there is an intrinsic spirit of helping and giving at the core of every American. And as you aptly pointed out, it's not necessarily about the money. In fact it's often not about the money at all, but about people- people helping people. and sometimes the best medicine for a person struggling in their own difficult circumstance is to reach out and help someone less fortunate. Perhaps Liz & Co. herein lies an opportunity for PW to showcase and spotlight on a regular basis an 'opportunity'- an organization, a group that is making a difference and that would welcome the human contribution as well as the financial one? I have a sense that the PW staff could create a regular feature that would have readers turning to it regularly. Best wishes to all of you at PW. Jeff O'Hora”

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