I donned a plastic apron, snapped on some disposable gloves and helped serve Thanksgiving dinner to residents of the Bakersfield Homeless Center this past Thursday.
I felt a definite sense of accomplishment afterward but also something akin to guilt because I so rarely do that sort of thing. Normally, on Thanksgiving, I eat to excess and then beach myself in front of a football game. Come to think of it, that's pretty standard for me from September to February.
"I'll try to be back next year," I told Anna, the staff member who ran the kitchen that day.
"Why don't you come another day, too?" she responded. "This was slow. You should have been here yesterday."
And then it dawned on me, because things sometimes dawn on me rather gradually: Serving food to the homeless on Thanksgiving is an act of self-validation that primarily benefits me. Serving food any of the other 364 days is an act of service that benefits them.
Which brings me to Giving Tuesday, an annual philanthropic event that follows Thanksgiving by five days. Black Friday you know all about. Cyber Monday, sure, that's still a thing, I think. Giving Tuesday, though, has legs. Or should.
The day of giving is a worthy if relatively new tradition that many still may not have heard of. It represents a welcome transfusion for grant- and gift-reliant nonprofits because it reminds the public of need in the community and inspires outreach.
But, to paraphrase Anna the kitchen supervisor, some of us should have been here yesterday, and we might want to think about tomorrow as well. For many nonprofits, the need is year-round.
Just as we shouldn't reserve our expressions of thankfulness for Thanksgiving, we shouldn't open our wallets only on Giving Tuesday. Or, for those less equipped to write checks, snap on the disposable gloves of community volunteerism. Giving back, one way or another, should have a place on everyone's calendar.
I'm not usually big on these manufactured annual observances, and I mean no disrespect to Giving Tuesday. I'm just of the opinion that these national and international "days" can make people's eyes glaze over. For me, "Global Tooth Decay Prevention Day" runs together with "National Dandruff Awareness Day" and pretty soon nothing stands out.
Happily, Giving Tuesday so far does not seem to have suffered that fate.
The observance was conceived by the United Nations Foundation and a Manhattan cultural organization known as 92nd Street Y as a global kickoff to the charity season — and a response to the heavy commercialization and consumerism of the holidays. Giving Tuesday, first championed by Mashable, a technology website, raised an estimated $10 million that first year and has bettered its total every year since; last year, thanks to friends like Facebook and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it hit $274 million.
It'll be interesting to see if the number grows for a seventh straight year. The Trump tax cut doubled the standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000 for joint filers; families that choose that option instead of itemizing their deductions will no longer be able to write off their charitable giving. Will they give less? It's too soon to tell, but charitable giving declined 2.4 percent in the first three months of 2018, Forbes reports.
All the more reason to play up both Giving Tuesday and year-round support, both locally and nationally. The United Way of Kern County, Cal State Bakersfield, Houchin Community Blood Bank and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County are among the local organizations that say they're all in.
Fortunately, we're a nation of givers, especially when the weather cools. The annual giving season is the last five weeks of the year, when a quarter of all charitable donations are made. Last year that was a record $410 billion, according to the National Philanthropic Trust.
The word "philanthropy" might conjure up people like the aforementioned Bill Gates — wealthy elites with seemingly limitless budgets for obscure, high-brow charities — but it shouldn't because that's not the reality. Ordinary people can and do keep vital, community-rooted organizations functioning, but it's often a battle.
Take my friends at the Bakersfield Homeless Center, which of late has seen its needs grow tremendously even as community giving has wavered. Executive Director Louis Gill will go before the Bakersfield City Council on Wednesday to ask for $200,000 for meals and beds.
The Homeless Center has been stretched to the snapping point by spikes in demand over the last three years: emergency beds are up by 13 percent and emergency meals by 20 percent. In 2014, the center helped place 345 people in permanent homes; in 2018 it helped house 1,426, a 400 percent increase.
For nonprofits like Gill's, Giving Tuesday comes not a day too soon.
The Wednesday and Thursday that follow will be just as important.