Holiday Season a Time of Joy and Generosity

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Every year, as the holiday season approaches, our nation's shopping malls and supermarkets are awash in holiday decorations and displays. Our neighborhoods become aglow in lights and our attention is turned to our loved ones.

It is also during the holidays that many of us turn our attention to those who are less fortunate. We donate either our time or our resources to improving the lives of those in need. In front of every shopping mall and supermarket, you can find volunteers for the Salvation Army ringing their bells in an effort to generate funds for their good work. Inside the mall you can often find "Angel Trees" or other holiday oriented tools to inspire shoppers to help poor children, or the homeless, or the sick, etc.

While this is the busiest season for our nation's charities, its not the only time that they need and deserve our support. Charities don't just function during the period from Thanksgiving to New Year's. They operate year-round, because the need never stops, even in this era of prosperity.

But if you believe that the U.S. is a bastion of stinginess during the other 10-and-a-half months, you'd be sorely mistaken. When we think of philanthropy and charity, we often think of captains of industry such as Rockefeller or Gates whose names adorn our museums and whose gifts make the newspapers. But it is not only those on the very top rung of the socio-economic ladder who extend a helping hand. In fact, according to a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, one of the last articles published by the late Everett Carll Ladd, who wrote about public opinion, 73 percent of Americans reported contributing to charities in the previous year for an average sum of donations of $851. Ladd also cites a 1988 survey showing that 75 percent of Americans believe that it is their responsibility to give to charities.

Furthermore, in contrast to those that think charity can be measured by the amount deducted by an individual on tax day, thousands extend the golden hand of generosity every day, often the form of time and donated services, which often go unnoticed by the I.R.S. These acts continue to be the foundation of generosity that has defined the American experiment from its beginning.

The so-called "armies of compassion" which Gov. Bush likes to refer to, can be found in every community in the nation. For example in Arlington, Texas, a former missionary asked the question: "Why can't we have a mission in the United States?" Finding no reason not to, Tillie Burgin founded Mission Arlington in 1986. Her first mission was to provide Bible studies to people in low-income apartments. But while filling people's spiritual needs was, and is important, the need for help with their physical, intellectual and emotional needs became immediately apparent.

Thus, Mission Arlington branched out from its original mandate to provide a multitude of services. Since the group only has a paid staff of six people, they depend on the generosity of over 2,000 volunteers to not only minister and provide food and clothing to those in need -which they do - but to also provide essential services that many would not otherwise be able to afford. For example, open for an hour three times a week, 41 volunteer doctors, nurses and clerical staff, provide free medical services and sample medications to approximately 1,600 patients annually. They also provide free dental service to approximately 2,500 people annually.

In addition to the medical services, they provide counseling services donated by 100 local therapists, free childcare for the homeless and at-risk families looking for jobs, a day-shelter for the homeless who work nights, and nearly 100 people are transported daily to jobs, job training and educational opportunities. And the most amazing part is, they are able to provide all this and more without doing any proactive fundraising or making an overt pitch for volunteers. They are able to survive because word of mouth has spread all across the community about their good work. People seek them out, wanting nothing more than to be a part of it.

Mission Arlington is just one of literally thousands of charitable organizations all across the country that are picking up those who have fallen through the cracks of our prosperity and the government safety net. Their work can never fully be repaid. Not from those who are helped directly from their kindness, nor from the rest of us, who benefit from having more of our citizens contributing to society instead of draining its resources.



The National Center for Policy Analysis is a public policy research institute founded in 1983 and internationally known for its studies on public policy issues. The NCPA is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, with an office in Washington, D.C.