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Give thanks, and more, in tough times

November 24, 2008
These are the times that try men's souls — and pocketbooks.

There's not a person among us who hasn't felt the financial pinch of the last few months one way or another.

Whether you've lost a job, lost a company, or lost a third of your investment portfolio, you've been hammered by this crumbling economy.

As we hunker down and try to fend for ourselves, it makes it tougher to think about helping those who are less fortunate and who have been hit even harder than we have.

As we head into Thanksgiving week, it behooves us to not only be thankful for the things we do have, but it also may be a time to dig deep and help those who are struggling more than we are and need a hand up.

I look around me and I see some unprecedented efforts.

Mayor Greg Ballard, for example, has launched his Citywide Food Initiative. He is calling on every business, school, church, government agency and citizen to help stock the city's food pantries through Dec. 12.

"Our city, like the rest of the nation, is facing challenges of an economic downturn," he said, "Our food banks are beginning to see a drop in food donations at the point when many of our neighbors are most in need."

I encourage you to participate in your workplace and set up a system whereby you and collect non-perishable items like canned meats, heat-and-serve meals, fruit juices, peanut butter and jelly, and the like, and donate the goods to a local food pantry.

Next week, IBJ will begin publishing its annual Wish List, where we invite city not-for-profits to submit lists of items or services they need, like old computers, office furniture and equipment, kitchen items, and the like.

We publish the list weekly in an effort to match these not-for-profits with individuals or businesses that have items they no longer need, or who can offer a service pro bono. Over the years, many not-for-profits have benefited from our list.

I'm also proud to say IBJ employees stepped up to record levels during our United Way of Central Indiana campaign this fall. We had more employees participate and raised more money than ever.

These are tough times not only for individuals in our community but also for the charitable organizations that serve them.

Our cultural organizations are also pinched. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra just announced a $293,000 shortfall for its fiscal year ended Aug. 31.

You can also bet that endowment funds at every not-for-profit have been clobbered in recent months. Sure these funds will come back, but many organizations use interest from their endowments for a part of their annual operating budgets.

Conventional wisdom holds that, in tough times like these corporations and businesses cut back and charitable organizations depend more on individual donors.

And with individual donors, the bigger contributions typically stay on track; it's the smaller ones that get smaller or disappear altogether.

It's important to remember that those in need of kindness and help still exist, and their needs are even greater now. So, the charitable organizations that serve them need to continue to provide their services.

Companies and individuals who can afford to make contributions in this economic climate — whether of time, talent or money — can make an even bigger impact on people's lives than they normally would. As you're carving your turkey this Thursday, I hope you have plenty to be thankful for, including your ability to lend a hand and give a boost to somebody who doesn't. Happy Thanksgiving.

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Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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