Lending a hand in tough times

Reaching out to neighbors in need is crucial this year. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Reaching out to neighbors in need is crucial this year. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

This holiday season, many people who were financially comfortable last year may find themselves seeking help from the philanthropic organizations they may have donated to in the past. Job cuts and the worsening economy have meant a serious downsizing to many holiday celebrations, and a time to revisit personal priorities.

But just when money is the scarcest is exactly the time when our neighbors need help the most. That’s why this year’s Charitable Fund Drive is so important. The annual drive provides people the ability to donate funds to the organizations they choose. For Oregon State University, a major recipient of those donations is United Way of Benton County.

The drive has consistently been one of the local United Way’s top campaigns, according to Executive Director Jennifer Moore. Last year, the drive outperformed all other fundraisers for United Way of Benton County, raising more than $70,000,

United Way dollars support more than 45 programs at almost 25 agencies, mainly through grants, as well as organizing the annual Day of Caring as well as providing needs assessment to determine the greatest areas of community need, such as food and housing.

“A United Way grant is dependable income for the recipient program, allowing it to make certain financial decisions based on dollars they know they are going to receive,” Moore said.

Moore said agency budgets are less secure than ever due to the economy, while at the same time need is increasing. Grants from the United Way can make a huge difference.

“As giving decreases, agency budgets become less secure—and they look at cutting service capacity, programs, staffing levels/pay, or some combination of all of the above—all at a time when demand for service increases,” Moore said.

Sandy Neubaum, associate director of the Austin Entrepreneurship Program, has helped United Way with two fund drives, and has assisted with their work determining priorities for funds distribution. Many organizations don’t have the staffing or money to do these kind of assessments, which is why it’s an important service for United Way to provide.

Neubaum said even though times are tough for almost everyone, there is a community obligation to help the poorest of the poor.

“It’s a time to be thankful for what we have, rather than dwelling on what we have been asked to sacrifice,” she said.

Kris Winter, Director of New Student Programs and Family Outreach, has been on the board of United Way for two years. She thought United Way was a good outlet to provide OSU students a chance to get involved in the Corvallis community through volunteer opportunities.

“If I expect students to treat each other well and create a caring campus community, I want to help make sure I do my part to model that both on and off campus,” she said. “By supporting the United Way, I am putting my time and energy into an organization that is totally focused on just that.”

Winter likes that the Charitable Fund Drive allows donors to choose where their funds are going, and to keep their money local to support their own neighbors.

“Giving during the holidays does not have to be a grand gesture to create a difference in someone’s life,” Winter said. “Sometimes it is little things that create a community of care. For example, I have a tradition – the first present I buy during the holiday season is one for someone from the Giving Trees located on campus.”

Another organization that benefits from the Charitable Fund Drive is the Corvallis Environmental Center. David Zahler, a senior instructor with the College of Forestry, spent years working with the center, ultimately serving as president of its Board of Directors.

“CEC staff were cherished collaborators for providing my students field tours with a focus on instructional design, and for having the time-tested, solid educational programming that could absorb many a student intern/volunteer and provide them real-world experience and inspiration,” Zahler said.

Zahler said CEC provides key natural resources outreach and education to the community, and is a strong reflection of the community’s concerns and values.

“Our community is enriched by the work of our non-profits like CEC– unfortunately, non-profits typically don’t have funding sources that they can count on unequivocally year after year,” he said. “The Charitable Fund Drive is a great way for donors to be reminded of all the great organizations working locally that benefit from local financial gifts.”

Like many others, Zahler sees a direct benefit to OSU and the Corvallis community by making contributions to CEC and other non-profits.

“Funding CEC staff provides the leadership that creates opportunities for internships and part-time seasonal employment to OSU students and other young adults. I’ve seen former students make lifestyle and career choices based on their seasonal non-profit work experiences,” he said. “We should feel indebted to such organizations for helping to create such well-rounded community members.”

Donations to the Charitable Fund Drive are being accepted on-line through Jan. 31. To make your contribution, go to http://oregonstate.edu/charitablefunddrive/. Donations can be parceled out over a 12-month period and can be automatically deducted from your paycheck.

~ Theresa Hogue

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