Carl Wernicke: Many Ways To Give Back

Jun 14, 2017

Two related articles got me to thinking recently, something that these days can be hazardous to your mental health. But, generally, I think that thinking is a good thing, so I decided to follow my neural pathways and see where it led.

The first article was a viewpoint in the News Journal lamenting the disappointing results of the annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive in May. Usually a rousing success, this year food collection fell by 50 percent, a shocking decline. Hopefully there was some technical reason, such as the failure to adequately publicize it, and not donation fatigue, with people worn out by all the demands for giving. This is a giving community, and the Stamp Out Hunger drive is as easy as it comes: you leave a bag of food at your mailbox, and it gets picked up.

When it comes to charity, food donations are pretty much the last line of support for the needy. So when a giving community like ours fails to support an annual event that has always been successful, it’s worrisome.

For what it’s worth, we put out our usual donation, including Spam, peanut butter, and oatmeal. I think if you’re going to donate food, make it food you like. And I love Spam, peanut butter, and oatmeal. Separately, not all mixed together, that would be gross.

The second article looked at what you might do for charity with a billion dollars. It cited what various billionaires have done, including funding research into blindness, early childhood education, supporting universities, fighting childhood obesity and more. And of course we remember people like Andrew Carnegie, who gave the equivalent of billions to build public libraries. Meanwhile, if you pay attention, over and over you hear the names of various foundations named for people that show up repeatedly as funders of public service organizations, from culture to public media to public health.

That applies locally, as well. Anyone who pays attention has heard the name of local people and foundations that reliably give large amounts of money to local projects, charities and cultural groups. And of course people of lesser means combine to support a wide range of community services; for instance, without the support of thousands of listeners, this radio station would go silent.

What would I do with a billion dollars? The columnist who wrote about billionaire giving said he’d form groups around the country to work on strengthening the social fabric of local communities.

My preference has always been for tangible, brick and mortar sort of stuff. I’d rather give Spam to a food bank than to write a check for its administrative functions, although obviously that’s needed too.

So I’d build facilities for YMCAs, the Salvation Army, public health clinics and the like. And since it’s my money, I’d include solar power and water heaters to minimize their future operating costs and free up their budgets for services. I’d also pay off debts and build up the endowments of community cultural institutions like museums, symphonies, libraries, and theater groups.

And I would use a substantial portion of my billion to create a free school dedicated to finding the best system of education for any and all students, regardless of economic status or home situation.

Of course, I don’t have a billion dollars. I did take a second bag of Spam, oatmeal, and peanut butter to Manna Food Bank after hearing about the problem with the food drive. Next year, I think I’ll add some grape jelly.