Making the case to support the annual Santa Fund campaign

There is no doubt that charitable giving during the holidays is a very important component of the philanthropic landscape in our community. In fact, over half of all nonprofits receive at least a quarter of their annual donations at the end of the year, and almost 20 percent receive over half of their annual donations between October and December each year. This year might prove interesting due to changes in the tax code, but that will remain to be seen. Regardless, it is fair to say that Americans are generous during the holidays. One particularly appealing type of giving during the holidays is for kids and gift programs. Many nonprofits participate in these types of programs, the most famous of which is probably Toys for Tots. At United Way, we partner with The Telegraph to run the “Santa Fund,” which is unique in that it supports the holiday programs of several agencies, including SHARE in Milford along with the Front Door Agency and the Salvation Army of Greater Nashua. The Telegraph has been the spearhead of this drive for around 50 years. Other agencies, such as the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter and Nashua PAL run their own programs in our community, as well. All of this should beg the question what is the real benefit of these programs, and why should a donor consider supporting them?

I am the first to admit that I personally struggle with these programs. Philosophically, for me personally as well as at United Way, I gravitate toward a desire to support programs that make lasting change happen. These are programs that break the cycle of poverty and could be classified as “hand ups.” That’s one of the reasons why we are strong supporters of Transitional Housing programs to end homelessness and educational program investments to create opportunities. There is something to be said, however, for donating to programs that provide basic supports, including food, clothing, shelter … and yes, holiday gifts. The benefit of these programs is that they get a person from one day to the next. It is, of course, completely impossible to break out of the cycle of poverty if day-to-day basic needs aren’t met. With regards to toys, I would contend that virtually every parent wants their child to be happy and, moreover, no parents want their children to be sad. At the holidays, like it or not, much of the psychological underpinnings of happiness have to do with gift giving and receiving. Because of this basic parental impulse, parents will do unwise things in order to make their children happy. These unwise decisions could include forgoing credit card payments, thus incurring interest charges, or delaying rent payments, thus risking eviction, or skipping medical appointments, thus risking one’s health, or neglecting to repair a vehicle, therefore risking a breakdown which could result in a dangerous accident or perhaps job loss. All these decisions are made that much worse due to Americans’ abysmal savings rate. In fact, according to CNBC, 1/3 of Americans have only a few hundred dollars in savings and 1/3 have no savings at all. Yet, parents will go into debt to make their children happy … basic human nature. I try to remind myself of these facts and behaviors whenever I get on my “we only support hand-ups” high horse. Sometimes, handouts are necessary, too. So, in my opinion, there is a societal case to be made for programs such as the Santa Fund, which goes beyond the feeling of just doing something nice for a child. Hopefully, that nice gesture can also lead to a situation where the more impactful programs can make a long term and meaningful change in a family’s circumstances. By the way, if you wish to support this year’s Santa Fund, you can do so online at https://app.mobilecause.com/form/1zhJSQ?vid=9k57.

Last but not least regarding the Santa Fund, I would like to make a special shout out to an incredible long-term donor. Dorothy Lasik has donated hand knitted items for MANY years to the Santa Fund. Dorothy starts knitting in January, and sometime in December walks through the door, this year with 100 handmade items, including sweaters, mittens, baby bibs and scarves. This generous, personal, and remarkable act of love is, for me, what most exemplifies the spirit of the holidays. Dorothy: Thank you from all of us. We are deeply grateful.

On another VERY different note, I want to take this opportunity to thank all our donors, volunteers and other supporters for helping us to have an amazing 2018. This has been a great year, which has included continued significant investment in community programs as well as meaningful Days of Caring and other events. Wrapping up the year for us has included our Third annual Shoebox Project, which has provided hundreds of care packages of personal care items as well as memory care essentials to homebound, low-income seniors in our community. Going into the new year, we are excited to be continuing our theme of fundraising in creative ways which don’t negatively impact other nonprofit partners. This time it will be with an event on Jan. 26 called the “Blizzard Blast,” which is a winter obstacle course race in Mine Falls Park. You can learn more about the event at www.blizzardblastrun.com – we have opportunities for participants, volunteers and sponsors at what we hope will become an annual winter tradition in Nashua.

Looking forward to the Blizzard Blast, Days of Caring and continued community investment in 2019, we always want to leave off by expressing hope, because Great Things Really Do Happen When We LIVE UNITED.

Mike Apfelberg is president of United Way of Greater Nashua.