'Tis the Season

Guest Correspondence

Image courtesy Pixabay.

As this season of celebration and reflection arrives, many of us look forward to the moments ahead—enjoying hearty, home-cooked meals with loved ones, making new memories of togetherness and that cozy feeling of being with family. 

For some neighbors, though, this is a time of pronounced stress, as the hope of providing cherished moments collides with the reality of budgeting shortfalls that force hard choices, like whether to purchase food for meals or pay this month’s rent. 

It’s been 24 years since Season of Sharing was conceived as a community safety net that could be a resource for people experiencing an acute unforeseen crisis that hampers their ability to meet their monthly bills. For many in our region—where 38% of residents are struggling to keep up with monthly bills despite working—a single accident could set off a cascade of late payments that could drown them in debt. 

Since its inception in 2000, Season of Sharing has raised and distributed $38 million that has offered a lifeboat to 50,000 individuals and families in their time of greatest need. The community’s caring nature and generosity have been notable—time and again the community has stepped up to help neighbors in need. 

The numbers are staggering. Imagining just one household spared an eviction is powerful, and the full impact of Season of Sharing is hard to register. Individual stories of our neighbors offer glimpses into the lives of those helped: retirees recently widowed, parents experiencing health setbacks that pile on debt, mothers living through divorces that jeopardize the stability of their children. 

Thousands of gifts have come in over time, emphasizing it’s not the grand gesture of one, but the help of all who are able, that has prolonged the life of this community asset that assures our neighbors’ security. Some gifts are large, others are smaller. All make a difference. It’s been heartwarming for me to receive the $5 donation with a handwritten note declaring, “It’s what I can give.” This is the spirit of our community—helping in whatever way we can. 

That help of caring individuals is amplified through The Patterson Foundation’s generous match—for every $500,000 raised by the community, The Patterson Foundation contributes an additional $100,000. Last year, that meant a game-changing $600,000 donation from our longstanding partner.

These days, in a moment of shifting economic realities, Season of Sharing is more needed than ever. On top of major events like red tide, the pandemic and Hurricane Ian, the region’s affordable housing crisis and inflation have placed additional pressure on working class families and seniors living on fixed incomes. 

This year’s Season of Sharing campaign, which runs through Jan. 31 and will be called upon for the year to come, so far is again underscoring the altruism of our community, showcasing that we are a community that won’t stand by while hardworking people, people with aspirations for themselves and their families, remain vulnerable to debilitating financial catastrophe. 

There are big challenges that we as a community must unite to solve, like how to empower our neighbors to achieve secure, lucrative careers, how to disrupt intergenerational cycles of poverty and how to create access to basic needs and services like housing and utilities. The Community Foundation of Sarasota County is working with partners in the nonprofit, government and private sectors to address these challenges.

In the meantime, there remains Season of Sharing, a stalwart, trusted safety net that has pulled so many families out of exacerbating uncertainty, anxiety and stress. Donations to Season of Sharing help reinforce the uniquely generous nature of our community. These gestures keep our community intact. These truly are gifts that provide the opportunity for all of us to enter the season with the hope of enjoying nourishing meals with loved ones, creating new memories of warmth and togetherness.

Roxie Jerde is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

Image courtesy Pixabay.

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