On the Prairies, charity goes beyond writing cheques

It is 18 days until Christmas and nine days since Giving Tuesday, a newly designated day designed to encourage charitable giving.

That special Tuesday appears to be an American-instigated event that somewhat ironically follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when spending is rampant and remaining discretionary funds are most likely to be in short supply.

Charity can take many forms, and before we all get too tangled in Christmas lights and yuletide cheer — if it isn’t already too late — let’s talk about giving.

Canadians are generous folk. In 2015, registered Canadian charities reported $251 billion in revenue to the taxman. That’s more than twice the revenue, combined, of this country’s five largest banks, according to CanadaHelps, a platform for donations and fundraising.

Much of the total comes via government channels, but that’s citizens’ money, too.

The Giving Report, an analysis of charitable giving published by CanadaHelps, shows that the average Canadian family that filed charitable contributions claimed $1,820 in donations, and Manitoba has the highest percentage of families who donate, at 39 percent.

Alberta families who donate gave the highest amount on average at $2,789.

Couples with children are more likely to give to charity and just slightly more likely than couples without children, the report says. And although 33 percent of families Canada-wide give to charity, there has been a steady decline in that percentage since 2010.

That is the case even though it’s evident from the data that charitable tax deductions are popular. Some 35 percent of all donations to registered charities happen in December, and 10 percent are made within the last three days of the month.

For some — hopefully many — tax deductions are an additional bonus attached to donations one would provide anyway.

In British Columbia, farmers can claim a special tax credit for donating food to eligible charities. That’s an option other provinces should adopt, given the demand placed on food banks across the country and the collective desire to alleviate hunger in this land of food plenty.

Data reportable to Statistics Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency is one thing, but many more donations and acts of charity occur without official record, and they deserve acknowledgement and thanks.

Every year across the Prairies we see or hear about kindness and generosity in many forms. It isn’t generally considered charity in the above-itemized sense of the word.

Scores of farmers and local businesses contribute to Canadian Foodgrains Bank projects. Farmers seed or harvest for neighbours who are affected by health issues or family tragedy. Individuals, businesses and commodity groups donate to food banks. Items are offered for silent auctions aimed at various causes.

It is the prairie way to view these efforts not as charity but simply as helping when help is needed.

Community responses following this autumn’s spate of destructive wildfires in Alberta and Saskatchewan illustrate the point.

Local businesses have donated fence posts, panels, wire and other materials. Donations of hay, straw and the related trucking have come in. Temporary pasture for cattle has been offered. Benefit concerts and dinners and potlucks have been organized. Money has come in through various GoFundMe on-line efforts.

It’s the prairie response to hardship.

As commercialism constantly invades the Christmas season, let’s push back by celebrating generosity shown this year, in whatever form, and continue the pattern of helping when help is needed.

Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod, D’Arce McMillan and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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