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Viewpoint: Thanksgiving welcomes in the "Season of Giving"

We are approaching the time of year when we gather with family and

friends to give thanks, to celebrate our faith traditions and the season's festivities, and to welcome in a New Year.

Thanksgiving welcomes in the season of giving and charitable traditions that provide us with opportunities to share what we have with our community.

Our giving tradition is so embraced by our culture that last year alone American corporations, individuals and foundations donated over $300 billion to charity; nearly three-fourths of this donation total came from individual contributions. Unfortunately, in these financially challenging times, often the first thing trimmed from the average person's budget is charitable giving. As giving declined by about 1.3 percent during each of the five most recent national recessions, it is

no surprise that many charities are now feeling the pinch - while demand for services such as food banks and utility assistance continues to increase.

Less charitable dollars are available this year and in 2010 charitable donations are expected to continue to decline. We can point our finger to a number of economic indicators (increased unemployment, tight credit, increased foreclosures, and weak consumer spending) as reasons to expect a soft charitable market to continue well into the New Year.

So, what can we do as individual contributors in these challenging times that are calling for clear heads and creative solutions? Perhaps you have your favorite local charities like Stillwater-based Community Thread ( which offers individuals an opportunity to become a Holiday Bureau Sponsor and share the holiday spirit with those less fortunate, and which offers volunteer opportunities throughout our communities all year round. Or you might wish to support one of our local food shelves and clothing closets that are seeing large increases in demand for their services: in Stillwater, Valley Outreach (, and in Woodbury, the

Christian Cupboard: ( Your local United Way ( also makes it possible to donate directly to your community as well as volunteer right where you live.

Close to home and the hearts of many is our state's Military Family Care Initiative, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon ( that provides donors with a web-based program to help military families during the holidays and year round. Our County and several cities in the District now have local leaders and volunteers involved to support the initiative (call or e-mail me for a link to leaders of this initiative in your community).

The initiative unites individuals and community organizations with military families to provide simple volunteer services to the families of military personnel during times of separation from their loved ones.

In this slowed economy we may have less to spend on charity and consumer purchases but a number of valuable on-line resources are available to help us make our donations count. For instance, Charity Navigator (, America's largest charity evaluator, provides great resources and guidelines to help donors make intelligent giving decisions as they navigate the crowded charitable marketplace. Network for Good ( also makes it easy to donate and volunteer online to more than a million verified U.S. charities.

When making purchases for friends and family this holiday season consider making purchases locally and supporting our smaller businesses to help them weather the recession. Or, if your needs cannot be met locally, you can visit and select purchases from one of hundreds of brand name stores with the knowledge that a portion of each purchase will be donated to your favorite charity.

Choosing to participate in our tradition of giving returns to society some of the benefits society gives you and provides those who have more with a wonderful opportunity to share with those who have less. The real bottom line: giving serves to encourage more giving. Charitable donors set an example for us all to follow.

I urge you to reach out to those less fortunate in our community and help make 2010 a better New Year for us all.

Julie Bunn, DFL-Lake Elmo, is the state representative for District 56A, which includes a portion of Woodbury.