Handler of donations can't help but be touched
Patty Delaney, a finance-department supervisor at The Seattle Times, is like a child on Christmas morning every time the mail arrives.
Seattle Times staff columnist
For years, the man used to call with his credit-card number and a list of names to be remembered in The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy. A mother, a father, an uncle, an aunt.
Then one year, he called Patty Delaney, a finance-department supervisor who handles contributions to the fund and who had spoken to the man for years.
"He was crying," Delaney said, "and adding his wife's name to the list."
A couple of years later, the man called again to donate. He was cranky and told Delaney he had been sick. But he had his list.
The following year, the man's daughter called from the East Coast. Her father was gone, she said, but she was continuing his donation — and adding his name.
Of all the jobs that go into the Fund For The Needy — the planning, the tracking, the writing and editing of stories — Delaney's might be the best.
She is the in-house heart that connects with those in the community. And she is the adult who is like a child on Christmas morning every time the mail arrives — and when generosity shows itself, anew.
"I'm kind of obsessed with it," Delaney said. "It gives me faith in humanity."
Some donations come tucked into Christmas cards. Some come in letters thanking The Times for the fund, or wishing they could have given more.
More than half are given in honor, or in memory, of someone. Those are the ones that Delaney takes extra care with.
"I feel a personal responsibility to ensure that those names are listed in the paper correctly, even if that means making a phone call to verify spelling or wording," Delaney said.
"It is important to them, therefore it becomes important to me."
But of the Fund For The Needy's 3,167 donors last year, 1,431 didn't want anything printed. No name. No memory. Just make sure that the money went to the people who need it the most.
In the beginning, the fund was pretty small. The first raised about $108,000. Each donation was entered into a ledger.
Not long after Delaney got involved 11 years ago, an online database was created, making the job much easier.
But in the community, things keep getting tougher. Jobs disappear. And yet the fund's numbers keep climbing.
"It's almost like people give more when they have less," Delaney said. "Or maybe they start noticing that it can happen to people like yourself. Your job goes away, or your house.
"I think people give more because it's getting closer to home."
People like that the newspaper researches the agencies; that the recipients are diverse; and that 100 percent of the money goes straight to the nonprofits. The newspaper picks up the administrative costs of running the fund.
In Delaney's view, people give as much as they can, and in whatever way they can: Cash, checks, stock. Online donations. Quarterly payments from trust funds. Delaney has even received bequests, including copies of the wills in which the Fund For The Needy was remembered.
Young families will donate in their children's names. Adults who were once listed as grandchildren are giving on their own, upholding a family tradition.
Neighborhoods hold potlucks and collect funds. So do kids, in lieu of birthday or Christmas presents. One year, a group from a day-care center knitted mufflers, sold them and donated the proceeds to the fund. The group even sent a photo.
"There's a dedication," Delaney said.
Every once in a while, Delaney will see the name of someone she knows on the donor list.
"And I can't say anything," she said, "but I'm glad to know it."
Not every part of the job is like Christmas morning.
It's a "mad rush" to meet the newsroom's deadline for the printing of the lists, to get the checks processed and put in the bank, and to ensure that the tax letters are mailed to the donors by the end of January.
"But I wouldn't change a thing," Delaney said. "I love doing it. And when I prepare the checks for the 13 agencies, it doesn't get much better than that.
"I breathe a sigh of relief. But I miss it, too."
Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or email@example.com.
About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
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