Time to give, big or small

2020 finds the welfare of many across the globe in jeopardy. But from billionaires to ordinary folks people are experiencing the joy of giving.

Volunteers from Forgotten Harvest food bank sort and separate goods before a mobile pantry distribution prior to Christmas 2020 in Warren, Michigan.

The Danes have popularized two terms that describe how to cope in difficult times. Hygge translates as a sense of coziness, comfort, or contentment. The Danish word pyt means something akin to easing stress by letting go and moving on.

Now a third term, samfundssind, is catching on at just the right time. It means to consider the needs of others above your own. In English we might think of it as community spirit or civic-mindedness. Or maybe just Scrooge awaking from his dream and feeling the joy of helping others.

The year 2020 has seen the economic chasm between rich and poor widen under the stress of the pandemic. While since March the Dow Jones industrial average has shot up more than 60 percent, the economic recovery has stalled. Those with funds invested in markets, including through pension funds or IRAs, have seen their wealth soar. Others, living paycheck to paycheck, face a much grimmer picture. 

This year prominent billionaires increased their wealth by a half-trillion dollars, the Business Insider recently calculated. That was at the same that millions were being put out of work as businesses failed or cut back on employees.

Some among the very wealthy have stepped up to help.  Over the years the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has give away more than $55 billion, with an emphasis on improving public health, especially in developing countries. Recently the foundation has zeroed in on ways to defeat Covid-19.

The super wealthy have been criticized for sometimes donating money erratically to causes that personally interest them, rather than might most benefit society. But at least they recognize an obligation to give back.

MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is considered the 18th richest person in the world. She announced she’d recently give more than $4 billion to at least 384 charities, upping her total giving for the year to about $6 billion. 

Her approach has gained favorable attention: Her gifts come with no strings attached, no requirement to put her name on anything. She has concentrated on helping groups that are sometimes overlooked in the past, including historically black colleges and community colleges, as well as groups such as food banks and stalwarts such as the YMCA, Meals on Wheels, and Goodwill Industries that directly serve the poor. 

“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” she wrote in a blog. Economic losses and health challenges have been worse for women, for people of color, and those living in poverty, she said.

It’s gratifying to see that less wealthy Americans are stepping up too. Charitable giving was up 7.5 percent in the first half of 2020 compared with 2019. And on GivingTuesday, Dec. 1, the online event that follows Thanksgiving each year, charitable donations leapt 25 percent to $2.47 billion, from $1.97 billion in 2019. The estimated number of people participating jumped 29 percent, to 34.8 million. 

“This groundswell of giving reaffirms that generosity is universal and powerful, and that it acts as an antidote to fear, division, and isolation,” said Asha Curran, the co-founder and CEO of GivingTuesday. 

For anyone, of whatever means, the joy of giving offers a powerful antidote to the sense of gloom that others may be struggling with this holiday season. Unselfishness shines a bright light for the whole community.

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