It all starts with purpose. All fundraising events need the kernel of a great idea, but the decision to undertake the huge amount of work needed to pull it off depends on why you do it. Bounty on the Bricks is an event to raise dollars to feed people. In our region of Appalachia, some people do not have the ability to feed a family on a regular basis. The evidence is seen in the increasing number of people served by food pantries. Many residents don’t have access to fresh food or the skills to prepare a meal from scratch.
Athens is a county of about 66,000 people and is the most economically divided county in the state. About 20% of residents live at or below the poverty level. That number goes up to 30% when talking about our children. About that same percentage is what is called food Insecure and 61% do not have handy access to a grocery store. Over half of Athens County children are currently eligible for free or reduced price lunch, compared to 45 percent for Ohio according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
There is another, often unanticipated outcome of fundraising events such as Bounty on the Bricks. Coming together to share a meal with neighbors knits us together in a dense web of support for those in need as well as enhancing our identity as a community. Community fundraising builds relationships. It’s this web of interconnectedness that determines our vitality as a town. An intricately connected community can weather most storms.
What’s good for building community is good for philanthropy too. Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone observes that “volunteering is among the strongest predictors of philanthropy and vice versa…In round numbers, joiners are nearly ten times more generous with their time and money than non-joiners. Social capital is a more powerful predictor of philanthropy than is financial capital.” Peter Block in the book Community: The Structure of Belonging) states “The context that restores community is one of possibility, generosity, and gifts, rather than one of problem solving, fear, and retribution.” Our connectedness allows a new conversation to take place, one focused on possibilities rather than problems. It requires citizen’s act authentically, choose and exercise power in a collective rather than relinquishing voice to a select few. We cultivate a space for all voices and collective decisions that are in the best interest of the community.
Bounty on the Bricks, Night of Legends, Taste of Athens and other fundraisers in our community build on our community’s ability to help those who need a little help in this world. In the process, Excerptwe continue to reinforce our dense web of social connection. We celebrate each other’s successes, share our talents and have fun together. But that’s not all. Lew Felstein of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and co-chair of Saguaro Seminar said, “We must learn to view the world through a social capital lens. We need to look at front porches as crime fighting tools, treat picnics as public health efforts and see choral groups as occasions of democracy. We will become a better place when assessing social capital impact becomes a standard part of decisions making”.
Fundraising events can be a recipe to build social capital in a community. They offer citizens a reason to work together, to celebrate their assets and to shine. Their results can be improved food access, stronger relationships, denser networks and webs of communication. And the “profit” goes way deeper than the money raised. The profit is a healthier, more positive community moving from mere problem solving toward celebration of who and where we are as a people.
Excerpt from The Community Table, by Susan Urano. To be published 2018 by Swallow Press.
Bounty on the Bricks is a community fundraiser in Athens Ohio presented by Ohio Health Obleness in partnership with the Athens County Foundation, Osteopathic Heritage Foundation of Nelsonville and the Sisters Health Foundation. Photo by Brien Vincent