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Unprecedented giving proves pandemic doesn’t only bring out the worst in people | COMMENTARY

Boys & Girls Club of Westminster Executive Director Bonnae Meshulam emerges from the water after being dunked outside the club's gym in Westminster Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Boys & Girls Club of Westminster hosted a DUNK Tank challenge for Giving Tuesday where Main Street businesses challenged each other all day to raise funds in all types of water warfare. Meshulam agreed to take a plunge if the event was able to raise $50,000 in a day.
Boys & Girls Club of Westminster Executive Director Bonnae Meshulam emerges from the water after being dunked outside the club's gym in Westminster Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Boys & Girls Club of Westminster hosted a DUNK Tank challenge for Giving Tuesday where Main Street businesses challenged each other all day to raise funds in all types of water warfare. Meshulam agreed to take a plunge if the event was able to raise $50,000 in a day. (Dylan Slagle)

There is no shortage of stories about bad behavior amid the pandemic: Shoppers punching retailers trying to enforce face mask rules, a Texas park ranger shoved into a lake while trying to urge social distancing, a New York bar owner running into a sheriff’s sergeant with his car after refusing to follow coronavirus restrictions. It’s enough to cause you to lose faith in humanity.

But then you see a report like the one released Dec. 3 by the GivingTuesday Data Commons, showing that millions of people still care about the well-being of others. A combined 34 million people in the United States — 29% more than last year — donated $2.5 billion to various charitable organizations on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, which since 2012 has been known as “Giving Tuesday” in an effort to direct some of the holiday spending toward charitable causes. The figure was up 25% over last year, a remarkable rise considering how many people are struggling right now.

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This spring, unemployment peaked at an “unprecedented level not seen since data collection started in 1948,” according to a brief from the Congressional Research Service, updated Dec. 7. In April, the national unemployment rate was 14.7%, and today, it hovers at a still high 6.7%. Part-time workers, those without college degrees and people of color were hit especially hard, with unemployment rates surpassing other groups. And with coronavirus case numbers surging again, and new rounds of restrictions being implemented at the local and state levels, many industries are expected to have a rough winter. Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County, for example, recently ordered restaurants shuttered for all but takeout service beginning Friday and capped capacity at 25% for retail businesses and others in the hopes it will stem the tide. Some businesses will not make it through the end of year, which means more people will lose their jobs.

It also means the need for charitable giving is greater than many of us have seen before. Many families can’t afford groceries or rent or the devices needed for virtual school. For millions, the pandemic isn’t just an inconvenience cutting into their social lives, it’s a devastating disease that’s taken loved ones’ lives and their own livelihoods.

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This year’s Giving Tuesday confirms that COVID-19 has not just aroused selfishness in some people, but selflessness, compassion and gratitude in many others who are able to help. The money saved from no longer commuting, going out for entertainment, belonging to a gym or using child care is now being directed to causes to help our fellow humankind. Giving has been up overall this year, in fact, with grants to food programs jumping a whopping 667% nationwide.

Others among us are making it a point to order takeout dinner a little more often and shop at our local businesses to do whatever small part we can to make sure our favorite restaurants and stores are still here when the pandemic is over. Or we’re paying the housekeeper and babysitter, even though we’re not using their services. Perhaps, in the back of our heads, many of us know we are not that far off from needing help ourselves, depending upon how long this crisis lasts. No one feels safe during this unprecedented time.

And while giving is up, many charities, including The Maryland Food Bank, still need much more to meet the increasing demand. And it’s not just the food programs in need of help. Think about energy assistance programs, small community groups and hospital foundations; our hospitals certainly are feeling the pressure of caring for sick COVID patients. And not every charity is seeing a boost.

So while we’re heartened by the boost in giving, we know we’re not out of the woods. Kudos to those who’ve contributed already and who will continue to do so. Those who haven’t yet, but could, might you?

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The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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