Charity Begins at Home

The Business of Philanthropy

By Lori Foleen

In the aftermath of the East Coast terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the outpouring of grief and support for victims' families was overwhelming. But even as we rallied around our fellow Americans across the country, new distress started to surface - economic distress. The travel industry declined rapidly, causing a chain reaction of economic crisis in many industries. Unemployment has risen, and so has financial uncertainty for many families, putting a damper on consumer sentiment and spending.

Relief funds established for families of victims have been flooded with contributions. But local nonprofit organizations throughout the nation that help those in need are struggling to gain financial support from their communities. In our ongoing support for national relief efforts, we must also remember to contribute to those in need of assistance right in our own backyard.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on how bad things have gotten here: 'Oregon has been losing an average of nearly 3,500 jobs a month since February and now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.' Oregonians have been hit harder by the recession than residents of nearly any other state. Local nonprofit service providers will experience increased demand for their services and most likely suffer a decrease in contributions.

The solution is to join forces to combat the problem, which is what local law firms and legal professionals have done over the past several years by forming Oregon Lawyers Against Hunger (OLAH) to support Oregon Food Bank. OLAH has organized bake sales, raffles and contests in firms all over the state. Over the past four years, the group has raised $206,343, enough to supply approximately 1.2 million lbs. of food. In fact, for the past two years OLAH has been Oregon Food Bank's top holiday food and fund drive producer. This year more than 50 law firms and hundreds of individual attorneys participated, raising more than $91,000.

Hunger remains a serious problem in Oregon. One in six Oregonians received emergency food last year, 40 percent of them children. Since 1996, the number of food boxes distributed by Oregon Food Bank has grown more than 30 percent. Hunger is not by any means limited to the homeless. Low-income families, the disabled and senior citizens also often need emergency food to get by. And the need is only likely to increase as economic conditions deteriorate, blue-collar jobs vanish and working families on the margins fall deeper into poverty.

Specific regions of the state are also seeing the need for emergency food services increase, according to Rachel Bristol, Oregon Food Bank's executive director. She reports that the organization quadrupled food distribution to Klamath and Lake Counties as the summer drought put people out of work. Bristol anticipates the need for emergency food will also increase in areas dependent on the hard-hit tourism industry, such as Central Oregon and coastal communities.

The legal profession has also stepped up to the plate in areas other than hunger. In 1993, local attorneys helped launch the Southeast Legal Clinic, which is administered by the Oregon Law Center, the nonprofit legal service provider. The clinic is staffed by Portland attorneys who donate time each month to provide legal services to low-income Oregonians. Since its founding, the lawyers and firms participating have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in unbilled time, assisting clients with a variety of civil matters on a pro bono basis. The clinic is one of several that attempts to meet the needs of people who would otherwise have difficulty obtaining legal representation. Lawyers are also heavily involved in supporting organizations that benefit children, including the Community Transitional School, which provides classroom services for children of homeless families, and Court Appointed Special Advocates, a private nonprofit organization that advocates for abused and neglected children.

Your assistance, and that of your coworkers, is needed as well. Many Oregonians contribute to the United Way through workplace holiday fundraising drives. When contributing this year, consider designating that your contribution be allocated to charitable organizations in Oregon.

Although we cannot predict the impact of the recession on the nation, we can predict the ongoing need for our continued support of nonprofit service providers who assist those less fortunate here at home.


Lori Foleen is client relations manager for Lane Powell Spears Lubersky in Portland. This article also appears in the December 2001 issue of Oregon Business magazine.

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