December 22, 2012

Mainers up and down in charitable giving

But donations are down significantly at Salvation Army kettles around Portland this season.

By Beth Quimby
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Eric Anderson has found a novel way to give to charity.

20121222_MOS Charitable
click image to enlarge

Peter Fendler of Brunswick says his company, Norton Insurance and Financial, has increased its giving this year.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

20121222_MOS Charitable
click image to enlarge

Jason Gall of Cumberland also says he is giving more.

Anderson, originally from Portland and back home to visit family for the holidays, lives in a cooperative home in Cambridge, Mass. Every month one of the 11 housemates picks a charitable organization or cause to donate to and they all chip in.

"We take turns," said Anderson.

Anderson was one of several shoppers in the Old Port Saturday who said they have upped or maintained their levels of charitable giving over the past year.

Others said the languishing economy has caused them to cut back on giving, which may explain the drop in on-the-street giving at Salvation Army kettles this year.

The Salvation Army's Portland Corps reported that as of Saturday its kettle campaign had raised $99,324, compared to $167,852 during the 2011 holiday season.

While the Salvation Army and other charitable groups step up their fundraising efforts this time of year, Mainers can be a tough sell in some ways.

The state ranks last in household contributions to all forms of charity compared to other states, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Maine's median household contribution is $1,403 a year compared to $5,255 for Utah residents.

Mainers came in second to last, just above New Hampshire, in giving as a percentage of discretionary income. Other states in the Northeast also rank near the bottom.

But when religion is removed from the equation, Mainers and others in the Northeast turn out to be more generous than any other part of the country, giving 1.4 percent of all discretionary income to charity compared to .9 percent in the South, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

There are plenty of Mainers who said they are raising their donations this year.

Peter Fendler of Brunswick, president of financial services at Norton Insurance and Financial in Cumberland, said his company has managed to increase its giving because business is so good.

He said his company budgets its charitable giving and asks employees to nominate potential charities.

"We generally try to have a couple in Bangor and Portland and one or two in New Hampshire."

The employees have to show why their nominees, which must be human-service related, are worthy.

Jason Gall of Cumberland said he is giving more this year.

"It feels as if people need more," said Gall.

He said he tends to give to the same organizations each year and prefers giving to agencies helping children and the poor. Helping Other People Everywhere, cofounded by his brother, Ryan Gall, the American Cancer Society, the Salvation Army and the United Way are some of his favorites, he said.

Alex Kasny of Scarborough said he expects to give at about the same level as last year. He said he gives to the Salvation Army but is finding it difficult to find their donation kettles.

"You used to see them in town and today I haven't seen any," said Kasny.

Newlyweds Melissa Fitta and Seamus McGrath of Portland said they are giving less this year, in part because of wedding expenses.

Fitta said she also feels like she contributes as part of her job.

"I am a social worker and I give a lot on a daily basis," said Fitta.

McGrath said he was inspired earlier in the day by a pedestrian who handed an energy bar to a panhandler.

"It is better to give people food than money," said McGrath.

Rita Swidrowski of South Portland said she is definitely giving less than before the economic recession and now focuses her giving on several organizations that are working to cure diseases and to Spiral Arts Inc., a Portland-based group.

"What I like about Spiral Arts is they bring arts to communities that do not have resources for the arts," said Swidrowski.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:


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