The Journal Gazette
Sunday, November 22, 2020 1:00 am


They come bearing gifts

Readers' response helps reaffirm area's charitable spirit

First, she was angry. Then, she was sad. 

Jina Newman then took action. 

The retired Fort Wayne Community Schools teacher is one of dozens who eagerly agreed to help children and families sponsored by the Allen County Salvation Army after an article was published last week in The Journal Gazette. The article written by a worker for the charity said political divisiveness and xenophobia had replaced kindness and goodwill in the hearts of some who were considering donating gifts to those in need. 

Some wanted gifts to go only to families whose political views they shared. Others insisted donations go to families with “Caucasian-sounding” or “traditional names,” wrote Jama Smith, resource development director for the local Salvation Army branch. 

The disheartening and depressing demands shouldn't sit well with any fair-minded person, but the negativity spurred good deeds by area residents upset over the comments. And that's a positive development that hopefully will continue into and beyond the holiday season.

“I know that I probably wouldn't have picked up a couple of names if the article hadn't been in,” said Newman, who is buying clothes and toys for a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old. “I just couldn't believe that people would ask those types of questions. It made my heart so sad.”

Families are helped by the Salvation Army at Christmastime in different ways.

Some who register for help – a family that has lost a parent or has a child with a terminal illness, for example – can be “adopted” by donors who provide gifts. The rest are placed on the charity's Angel Tree, and names can be plucked from the tree by donors. 

Smith said roughly half of the 250 families up for adoption had been taken when her article was published Nov. 15. The rest were adopted within a day of publication. 

“That was absolutely amazing to see,” Smith said, noting at least one caller sought “a family whose names we can't pronounce.”

“It's like the Grinch's heart grew three sizes,” she said. “It was very reaffirming.”

Names still are available on the Angel Tree, but Smith said she found the adoption of families reaffirming because – after more than a decade on the job – she had begun to question the empathy of givers. 

A recent call from a man who wanted strings attached to his donation pushed her over the edge. The man wanted to meet with gift recipients to learn their voting preferences and “know if this is a family we can support,” Smith said. 

“I went home that night and said, 'OK, I think now is the time I need to write something,' ” she said. 

Asked other things she's heard from donors, Smith pointed to Facebook posts.

“Basically, I don't want to donate to someone that thinks the gov't should take from me and give to them,” one man wrote. “I don't want to help someone trying to fleece taxpayers for more free s--- for themselves.”

Such statements are heartbreaking, but they are likely not unique to northeast Indiana. 

Brigham Young University researchers published a study in 2018 that shows political competition is hurting charities.

The study published in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly examined giving among voters in red and blue counties in the U.S. 

Voters in areas where political competition is high gave less to charity, according to the study, and a Science Daily article on the report points out “the findings may indicate a sense among voters that they're unsure if their charitable donations are going to go to like-minded people.” 

“The more politically divided we get in our communities, the more we're going to see consequences of that spill over into other facets of life, including our charitable giving,” BYU associate professor of public management Rob Christensen told Science Daily two years ago. 

Refreshingly, a study from Fidelity Charitable about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on philanthropic donations found that 54% of donors planned to maintain giving levels. About 25% of 1,842 donors surveyed said they planned to increase the amounts given to charity. 

Amanda Davis, chief development officer for the United Way of Allen County, said she has seen little difference in giving this year – and donors haven't asked that their money go to specific people.

She couldn't provide specific figures, but noted the local United Way raised $3.4 million in the spring to help organizations such as food banks and homeless shelters amid the pandemic. 

“(They) need help more than ever this year,” she said.  

Many people need help. Poverty doesn't discriminate. Donors shouldn't, either. 

This story has been corrected.

You can still help

Resources for those wishing to make Christmastime donations through the Salvation Army:

• Take a child from Angel Tree and provide an outfit and a toy:

• Provide a teen with a gift card:

• Ring a bell for two hours:

• Donate:

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