By Robert Washburn
Canadians are not as generous with their time or money as they used to be, according to recent figures released by Statistics Canada.
Volunteer time has dropped by a quarter over the past decade to 149 hours per year, down from 191. The number of people who donate money to charity has dropped by an astounding 200,000 between 1991 and 1998. About 5.9 million Canadians volunteer or donate to charity.
The numbers are not shocking. Talk to anyone and the universal complaint is about a lack of time. So it is no wonder people don’t volunteer. As for donating money, people just aren’t as generous.
But come to Northumberland County and the figures could be challenged. Just in the past two weeks, the media has been full of stories about people’s generosity.
For example, Northumberland United Way reached it goal of $725,000 despite earlier reports that is was coming up short. This is more money than last year.
There is also the massive efforts by volunteers to deliver food hampers to 345 families for the Salvation Army. To help raise money for these and other efforts, local celebrities took time to ring a bell beside a Salvation Army Christmas kettle.
Cobourg resident Beth Sheffield is going to teach her children the true meaning of Christmas by cooking dinner for people on Christmas Day. She doesn’t want people to be alone. She will not be alone – 40 people from her church have volunteered to help.
Twenty students from CDCI West hosted a Christmas dinner for the less fortunate.
Volunteers from the hospital board, fire halls and ambulance services used bedpans and boots to collect money for the hospital.
The Port Hope Red Cross offers everything from wheelchairs to bath seats for people to borrow at Christmas time when receiving family or friends who need assistance.
The Musicmakers donated nearly $10,000 to Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds homes for those who would not normally be able to afford one. It held a concert in conjunction with the Northumberland Players.
Local postal workers helped Santa respond to letters from local children.
There is also the Giving Tree for the Children’s Aid Society, where people can buy gifts for children ensuring they do not go without at this time of year.
Even our fine feathered friends who migrate south benefit from the volunteers who do the Christmas bird count to assist in measuring the changes in bird populations across Northumberland and North America
While an argument could be made that people are more giving at Christmas time that is not entirely true. Just look at the hospital fundraising campaign; an initiative to create a dialysis unit in Port Hope. The Port Hope walk-in clinic, supported by volunteers and fund-raising. Then add to this list the service clubs, hockey programs, baseball, various board, committees and, well, you get the idea.
Gordon Floyd, vice-president of the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy, said in the media, the most likely explanation for the drop in volunteerism and charitable giving in Canada is a growing polarization between the rich and the poor.
Other experts say household incomes are flat and that explains the figures.
So what is going on in Northumberland? Statistics Canada won’t release figures for individual towns unless you want to pay $100 for the full report. (Freedom of Information is another column for the New Year). But it really isn’t that hard to understand.
An analysis of those who give portrays an interesting picture. These are people who are older than 35, strongly religious and generous in ways besides giving and volunteering. They are well educated people, have higher status jobs, and live in small communities.
There could not be a better description of people in Northumberland. We do not have a lot of single, young people like major urban centre such as Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal. Our community is made up of families. Our churches are strong. We have a higher than normal senior population because many people come here as empty nesters or retirees, running from the big city. These people tend to be well off, well educated and, well, just good people.
It is a tough trend to buck against. There is the daily barrage of mass media trying to sell a self-serving attitude. We are told appearance are far more important than substance. Governments are doing less to help the most needy.
Statistics Canada did a survey to get its figures. One only has to walk down the street in any town in Northumberland; sit in an arena; go to a church; or walk through the doors of any agency to see that there is something that cannot be measured. You see the face of compassion.
In some Far Eastern philosophies, it is said without compassion and generosity, one will never find enlightenment. Closer to home, a cornerstone of the Christian tradition is being your brother’s keeper. When we give, we are better for it.
We have a deep tradition of caring. Our communities have a long history and were built by people who knew the values of sharing, co-operation and giving. This continues to live on. Without it, we would not have survived. If it doesn’t continue, we won’t. But with our record, the community has nothing to worry about.