There’s been a lot of emphasis, especially in this dire economy and certainly this holiday season, about the import of buying local. The 3/50 Project has a simple idea about this (and some compelling numbers): basically, if every employed person spent $50 per month with local businesses, we’d be putting a lot more into our local economies. The spirit of this is what I like the most, a reminder that if I put into the place I live, the quality of life there improves, not just for me, but for the people around me throughout the community.
I was thinking about how I also tend to like to give locally—and why. There is the most obvious reason: by giving here, where I can see the impact of my gift, I am confident about its importance. For example, if you go past the Northampton Survival Center at the right time of day, just before it opens, you’ll see there’s a line of people waiting to be helped by the organization. The four days’ worth of food people can receive each month isn’t a small thing when money is extremely tight. It’s a foothold toward food security. As Heidi Nortonsmith, Director the NSC points out, “It’s very distracting to be worried about whether you have enough food to feed your children and yourself. Things like job interviews are that much harder on an empty stomach or with the thought that you can’t feed your family supper that day looming over you.”
The Pioneer Valley does not have exclusive rights to hunger; it’s not even a national issue; it’s a global one. I am not advocating that it’s more important here than elsewhere. But there’s no question that donations—money and food itself—to the NSC or the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts make a critical, tangible difference here. What’s more, it doesn’t take a huge donation to make a real impact to one of these organizations. In fact, when you see how much food moves through the NSC, powered by incredible volunteer support, it’s the story of Rapunzel—straw to gold—in front of your very eyes.
There are many organizations around here that have finessed the straw to gold trick, and are providing essential services and serving our community in awe-inspiring ways.
I have abiding respect for The Care Center in Holyoke, which not only provides educational and other support to pregnant and parenting teens, it strives to offer a new set of visions and possible aspirations to those young parents, through a liberal arts’ inspired curriculum and access to new ways of moving through the world, including rowing crew.
Treehouse in Easthampton is an intentional community to support families with children in the foster care system and adoptive families by creating cross-generational support. Treehouse advocates for a much different view of children shunted through the “system,” one that really respects their struggles and affirms their strengths and calls upon us—the larger community—to rethink how we can care for and about these children.
Safe Passage seeks to provide support to women experiencing domestic violence and their families: counseling and services to make necessary changes, a safe haven, and again, new models to move forward. Women who have received that support and can find a more peaceful next place are grateful for the chance to be helped to figure out how to do just this.
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art wasn’t created to serve people in dire need, but it is committed to ensuring that underserved populations are able to visit, and to be visited by the museum in myriad ways. By virtue of its mission to celebrate and teach and promote literacy—through art and through books and by educating educators and others working with children—it is reaching far beyond its lovely spot in an apple orchard at the edge of the Hampshire College Campus.
These are just a few of the many, very many agencies and organizations—and the amazing individuals within those groups—making this place special. When I think about why local giving matters, the beginning of my answer is in looking at what a place like the Carle Museum does: it takes what it has to offer and moves those gifts outward and onward; it’s a model.
Long ago, when I was part of a small group of women starting up the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts, I had no idea of the potential reach. We knew there were women unable to pay for abortion services, and we wanted to help them. We knew there were a few such funds in other places. It was a kind of modest operation back then; we didn’t raise a huge amount of money and we didn’t do a lot: we let the clinics (there weren’t that many of them) know we could help, and we negotiated a break on the price if we were involved. It felt like a collective effort to help women remain able to make a decision to obtain health care with some dignity. Framing the issue of access—not the abstract idea of “life” or “choice”—was somewhat new to us, then.
Over time, a group of these funds gathered to share their experiences. The idea of creating an organization, one that could help in those ways and could also advocate for underserved women, about this issue of access, was floated and The National Network of Abortion Funds now has over 100 funds participating and does all of that. NNAF lends a critical voice by advocating about issues pertaining not to theory but reminding that larger “choice” movement that choice isn’t possible without access.
In fact, giving locally and helping to encourage smaller organizations to not only serve their communities well but also to develop innovative and effective ways to do so, and then to see how—and encourage—those groups can band together is really how local goes global. That’s why supporting local farming through an organization like CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) is so important; by building a network and a model, CISA becomes a resource for other areas hoping to do the same kind of thing. So, giving locally may help the development of local elsewhere, and those synergies are what make change. It may feel small to give locally, but when you start to think about it, small is beautiful—and necessary and ultimately, not so small.