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Originally published November 23, 2013 at 5:07 PM | Page modified November 24, 2013 at 7:46 AM

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Why donate? For many, it’s about loving their neighbors

Columnist Nicole Brodeur wanted to find out how generosity happened. So she asked donors to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy and found out it really comes down to a few simple words.


Seattle Times staff columnist

You ask once, and then again, in a different way, trying to get to the core of generosity, to why people give their hard-earned money to strangers.

Something beyond “It’s the right thing” or “We give every year.” Good answers that still leave you wondering.

And then Rosemary Soper says it all with four simple words.

“I’ve never been hungry,” Soper told me when I asked why she gives to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy. “Maybe that’s part of it. We’re not the 1 percent at all. We just feel it’s a calling, I guess.”

Soper and her husband, Ralph, live in Bellevue and have given to The Times’ fund since it started, when she was working as a reference librarian at the King County Library and he was with the Crown Zellerbach paper company.

“It’s just that we feel a cause to do it,” she said. “We’re not rich, but we feel blessed.”

And that may be what has motivated so many others to give over the years despite the fluctuations in the job market and the stock market, and the inevitable gains and losses of life.

No matter your tax bracket, if you’re not on the street or hungry, you can afford to give to others.

Consider: In 2008, the year of the most recent recession, donations to The Times’ Fund For The Needy increased by $120,000.

And just three years later, in 2011, the fund cracked the $1 million one-year mark for the first time.

As we kicked off this year’s campaign, I grabbed last year’s donor list and started making random calls, in search of how giving happens.

David Eitelbach, of Seattle, bless his heart, was no help at all.

“I am naturally very tight with my money,” he said. “But we’ve been very lucky, and I feel an obligation.”

So what is it about The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy?

People like that every penny raised — and we get pennies — goes to the agencies we support. They like that there is no overhead. And they like that The Seattle Times has vetted every organization that benefits from the fund so they don’t have to do the legwork themselves.

“One hundred percent goes to the people who need it,” said Rosemary Soper. “There’s not a huge overhead.”

Lee Burrow is the owner of Bad Woman Yarn in Wallingford. She’s been giving to the fund for seven years.

Why? She reads the paper every morning. The Fund For The Needy is local.

“Nothing personal,” she said. “I just think it’s a good thing to do.”

So what’s with the name of her shop? She laughed.

“I’m not a bad woman,” she said. “I try hard, but nothing works.”

Eitelbach hadn’t given to the fund before last year. Instead, he gave directly to several organizations.

Then he realized that the fund gave to those agencies, and others.

“It looked like a pretty good vehicle for us to give to the Seattle community.” With just one check.

Christian Saether, of Seattle, who gives every year, agreed: “I feel like you’ve done your homework and picked out a pretty decent set of things. So it’s a nice gesture.”

Time and again, people said they gave because they see what goes on in the community. The people on the streets. The lines at the food banks. The headlines about jobs lost, benefits cut, costs rising.

Catherine Swadley lives in Issaquah and regularly gives to the Issaquah Food Bank. Not long ago, Tent City set up at Spirit of Peace United Church of Christ, where Swadley is a parishioner. She participated in potlucks there, got to know the residents.

When I first called her, Swadley didn’t remember giving to the fund. She does so many things, gives to so many places.

But why?

Several years ago, Swadley lost her son to AIDS, and got involved with PFLAG, which supports lesbians and gays in their own families — and those who have been turned away from their own. She also served as a welfare worker in Maine and California.

“So I have heard some stories, oh, yes,” Swadley said. “And you never forget them. It made me become more humble, and I became a terrific listener, and to be loving and kind to people.”

Swadley is worried about the impact of recent cuts to food-stamp programs.

“Taking food away from people is an awful thing,” she said. “I am comfortably fixed, financially, and I feel that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

It’s not really that hard to see why people give, Saether told me. Just take a look around the area. It is a place of beauty, and of suffering.

“You kind of owe your community something,” he said. “You get wrapped up in work and stuff, and it’s hard to figure out what to do to help directly. And all the while you’re thinking, ‘Wow, there are a lot of troubled people around.’ ”

Saether likes that The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy is “a direct, focused effort,” he said.

“And it seems appropriate to make sure those efforts haven’t died on the vine.”

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Sunday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.



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