December 8, 2016: Belmont’s role in ‘season of giving’

Belmont Citizen-Herald: December 8, 2016

Belmont residents are a generous sort when it comes to financially supporting their favorite charitable institutions.  According to data maintained by the Internal Revenue Service, almost, but not quite, half of all Belmont residents filing a tax return in 2015 (tax year 2014), reported making some level of charitable contributions.  Nearly 5,500 Belmont taxpayers made total charitable contributions exceeding $40.3 million, an average of $7,400 per taxpayer.

In contrast, statewide, just over 30% of all Massachusetts taxpayers made contributions in 2014, the IRS data shows, averaging not quite $4,600.  These numbers do not include political contributions.

While the generosity of Belmont is driven somewhat by the higher incomes in many parts of our community, contributions come from all levels of income.  More than one-quarter of all Belmont contributors had incomes less than $100,000 and yet made contributions of almost $2,000 in 2014.  Belmont residents with income less than $25,000 made contributions averaging more than $1,200 in 2014.

Belmont provides ample opportunity for residents to make local charitable contributions.  The Belmont Food Pantry and Belmont Affordable Shelter Fund supply important social services to help people maintain healthy eating habits and preserve their place to live when trouble strikes.  The Belmont Citizens Forum is an important institution that focuses on local environmental concerns and is supported almost exclusively through local contributions.  The Massachusetts Audubon Society maintains the Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary in Belmont, a refreshing substantial open space conveniently located in the midst of our sprawling metropolitan area.  The Belmont Dramatic Club, founded in 1903, is the second oldest continuously operating community theatre in the United States.  The Belmont Gallery of Art is a privately supported gallery nestled on the top floor of the Homer Building next to Town Hall.

These institutions set aside the many “Friends” organizations in Belmont, whether they be the Friends of the Belmont Library or the Friends of the Council on Aging.  Support groups for various public school activities abound, whether it be athletics (Belmont Boosters), high school and middle school theatre (PATRONS), or the school system in general (Foundation for Belmont Education).

The Japanese have a word, tashinamu.  According to one etymologist, the word articulates the notion of privately devoting oneself to a project or goal, whether or not you will be recognized for the effort.  I frequently associate the word, for example, with the efforts of people who stoop to pick up trash along the sidewalk as they are out walking. Why do that? For the sake of tashinamu.  The English language does not have an equivalent word.  Nonetheless, this holiday season provides an opportunity to provide financial support to an institution of your choice. . .for the sake of tashinamu.

I have long admired the writing of American author James Baldwin.  Author of works such Giovanni’s Room and Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin once wrote that “We are responsible for the world in which we find ourselves, if only because we are the only sentient force which can change it.”  Your giving this season can help change the world.  It matters not so much which particular institution you might favor.  Charitable giving lends strength, lends vitality, lends vibrancy to a community.

The holiday season means different things to different people, depending on age, religious affiliation, family traditions, and other factors.  Religious observance. Family gatherings. Seasonal recreation.  However, as we head toward the end of the year here in Belmont, I encourage Belmont residents to view the holiday season in our community as a Season of Giving.  Large or small, local or otherwise, a financial contribution to the charity of your choice is an expression of community.

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