SideLines: Brother, can you spare a dime?

This whole thing began on a whim.

Around last Christmas, I was getting off work one night and had to run into a store. Bright green signs posted throughout the store asked customers to purchase a bag of pet food for a local animal shelter. Being an animal lover, I couldn’t resist.

The cashier asked if I wanted to contribute a dollar towards juvenile diabetes research. A diabetic myself, I donated.

As I passed a Toys for Tots barrel near the exit, a freezing college student was ringing a bell for the Salvation Army. How are you going to say no? I dug into my pocket.

On the way home, the Chicago radio station I was listening to played a commercial about donating your car for kids, followed by a plea to donate to the Neediest Children’s Fund.

At home were two letters waiting for me, one from the American Red Cross and one from the Rockford Rescue Mission, both urgently seeking funds to help their clients get through the holidays. A little while later, I got a phone call asking for money to support local police agencies.

While I’m sure every one of these is a great organization – except for maybe the police fund, which I think might be a scam – it got me wondering just how many charities there are. Purely for the heck of it, I decided to keep track. When I started out, I never seriously thought I would do it for a whole year, but I did.

In an unscientific survey, I divided the requests into three categories. The first was for any person, group or organization seeking money for a fundraiser, cause or event within the coverage area of the MidWeek, the Daily Chronicle and the Valley Free Press. The second was any request for financial assistance for a cause outside our coverage area, including state, national and international. The third was the number of times that I was personally asked – either in person, by phone or by mail – to donate.

Using the term “fundraiser” in its broadest sense, I included events in which the public was asked to donate or purchase something to help an individual or an organization raise money. I had to group them all together, big and small, because otherwise it was too confusing.

I knew there were a lot, but I didn’t know there were this many.

In 2012, I counted 1,182 local fundraisers, 1,146 national fundraisers and 104 times in which I was asked to donate to a cause or a charity.

As one might expect, November (222) and December (195) recorded the most requests outside our coverage area; May (29) had the fewest. September (128) and November (124) had the most local fundraisers. The month with the fewest local fundraisers was January (61). May (14) and July (13) were the months I was contacted the most; August (4) had the fewest.

And these were just the ones I was aware of.

I should point out I didn’t include everything, like a memorial when someone passes away. Nor did I include any group or organization that has a permanent place on their website for donations.

On top of everything else, the church I attend not only wants me to tithe 10 percent of my earnings, before taxes, but to increase my giving by at least 1 percent every year.

In Luke 6:30, Jesus said to give to everyone who asks. Fortunately, he didn’t say how much we should give.

I’m glad I chose this subject and not the number of political ads I saw last year. I’m not sure I can count that high. This year I might see who runs more ads: weight-loss programs, cable companies or Internet dating.

Or maybe I need to find a hobby.

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