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Giving Tuesday to give Black Friday a run for its money

Published: Thursday, Nov. 15 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

The Morris family have a longstanding holiday-giving tradition. Throughout the year, Morris and his wife and daughter, sister and her family and parents collect money. On the first night of Hanukkah, the family comes together to discuss how to use its donation. Once the family reaches a consensus, an anonymous letter to the chosen organization is written explaining the family's reasoning for making that donation.

The Morrises plan to continue this tradition indefinitely. “We want to teach our children the lessons of charity,” Morris said, “to instill a sense of the importance of giving back.”

But giving as a family has done more than teach the Morris children about helping those in need. “Being community minded has become an important part of our family identity,” said Morris. “Our tradition keeps us close and connected.”

Giving money, like the Morrises do, is just one way for families to take part. Some other #GivingTuesday suggestions for families include cleaning out the closets and donating what is no longer used to programs that set up families in new homes. Families can also contribute by serving together at a local soup kitchen or by donating their favorite healthy foods to a community food pantry.

Giving as a group

#GivingTuesday would also like to encourage groups to come together in philanthropic work. Kathie Borkowski, of Ridgefield Park, N.J., puts together a big party. Borkowski gets details on needy families from local churches and community organizations. When she sends out party invitations, she asks guests to help her make a special holiday for these families by donating wrapped gifts.

On the appointed night, guests meet at Borkowski’s home for holiday cheer. “She gets over 50 people there each year,” said Bob Sienicki, a friend who has attended the party with his wife for more than seven years. “The room where we put the gifts is always overflowing.”

On Christmas Eve, Borkowski drops off the presents to the families. The Sienickis said this annual party is a great way to do good while celebrating the season, but they’ve noticed other benefits.

Most of the people who attend the party are not social friends, said Sienicki, but “they’ve become very special people to us.” The act of giving as a unit connected people who don’t have a lot in common.

“A few years ago, we ran into our neighbors from across the street,” Sienicki said. “We’d always been friendly with them but nothing more." Their shared experience of giving became the foundation for a more substantial relationship.

A suggestion for #GivingTuesday include having a community bake sale or silent auction and giving the proceeds to a designated charity. Another recommendation is to engage the community in a winter coat drive.

But raising money and giving food isn’t the only kind of service participants can offer. One of Timm’s favorite ways to get people involved in #GivingTuesday comes from the Phoenix House, a nonprofit organization that provides treatment for people with substance abuse problems in 10 states. Instead of money, Phoenix House has asked participants of #GivingTuesday to write letters to their patients, words of encouragement and hope that will help them as they struggle to overcome addictions and turn their lives around.

The most meaningful gift we can give our children, friends and loved ones is the commitment to work together to build better communities, according to Kathy Calvin of the UN Foundation.

"#GivingTuesday offers America a new narrative, challenging us to think beyond Black Friday and Cyber Monday and reminding us that the spirit of the holiday giving season should be about community and not just consumerism," she said.

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