Hearts And Wallets Are Open Across Region During Holidays

Carl Kosola / Photojournalist
Betsy Ramos, a shareholder at Capehart Scatchard law firm in Mount Laurel, stands with a
room full of toy donations at her office that will be given to local children Thursday.

By Crissa Shoemaker DeBree, writer for Burlington County Times, Dec 21, 2016

Hundreds of children who otherwise wouldn’t have anything under their Christmas trees will have a merry holiday this year, thanks to a group of adults they have never met.

Stuffed animals, board games and toys of every shape and size recently left the offices of Radwell International in Willingboro last week, destined for children being served by a variety of groups in Burlington County.

Each toy was donated by an employee of the industrial equipment maker as an entry fee to its annual holiday party.

Across the region, individual donors and companies like Radwell are opening their hearts — and wallets — to support those in need during the holiday season. And this time of year is critical. Some nonprofit organizations can see up to 40 percent of their annual donations come in during the last six weeks of the year.

“The last weeks (are) like a big Black Friday,” said Eileen Heisman, president and CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust, a nationwide public charity that works with high net-worth donors. “It’s this whole ritual that Americans have done for decades. When they decide to give is often around the holiday season:’

Americans as a whole are tremendously generous. Last year, they donated an estimated $373.25 billion, according to the Giving USA 2016 report, a 4.1 percent increase over 2014 and the second record year in a row. Donations from individuals reached $264.58 billion, while corporate giving grew 3.9 percent to $18.45 billion. Foundations contributed $58.46 billion, and charitable bequests accounted for $31.76 billion.

The majority of donations in 2015 went to religious institutions, at $119.3 billion. Other top donation categories were education, human services and foundations.

A 2007 study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found that respondents reported giving about 24 percent of their annual total between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

“I think it is because we do naturally kind of take stock at this time of year,” said Jim Cawley, a former Pennsylvania lieutenant governor who now serves as CEO of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. “Whatever holiday it is that you choose to celebrate, or not to celebrate, there is a societal reflection on where we are, what’s transpired over the previous year, and getting ready for the next year. It’s that point that people reaffirm their decision to be generous, and to give, either of their time or their treasure or their talent.”

Give for your health

Giving back doesn’t just benefit the organizations that receive donations. Some believe it can actually be good for your health.

“Some people get so focused on reciprocal gains and calculations and tit for tat, that they lose sight of the fact that giving is the significant alternative to getting caught up in a downward vortex of rumination and hostility,” said Stephen G. Post, an author, public speaker, and professor at Stony Brook University in New York. “Those destructive emotions are terrible. When people just focus their minds on what they can do to help others, it turns off a lot of the neurological circuits that are associated with hostility, bitterness and so forth.”

If left unchecked, Post said, those negative emotions have been shown to lead to cardiovascular disease and other serious physical health problems.

Post has been studying the effects of charitable giving since the 1990s, under the mentorship of noted businessman and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, founder of the John Templeton Foundation outside Philadelphia.

“He really felt that giving oftentimes benefits the giver just as much, if not in some sense more, than those who receive,” Post said. “He thought we were generous for the sake of helping others, and he was very sincere about that, but he also wrote eloquently about how people who are generous tend to be ‘radiant.’ They tend to be joyful.”

A 2010 survey by United Healthcare and Volunteer Match seemed to support that. Two-thirds of respondents who reported volunteering in 2009 said it made them feel physically healthier. Three-quarters reported lower stress levels, improved emotional health, and better recovery “from loss and disappointment.” Volunteers said they had less trouble sleeping, less anxiety, better friendships, and a sense of control over chronic health conditions.

“One only needs to consider the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ to see the effects of giving,” Post said.

“He’s very bitter,” Post said. “He’s ruminating. He can’t forgive this gal who he wanted to marry who stiffed him. He’s lived this ugly, nasty life. And then, he is slowly awakened to the value of being a giver. The light slowly turns on for him. He’s discovered what I call the ‘giver’s glow: When he’s last seen in that book, he’s like a young adolescent, bouncing around a London street helping everybody in sight. All his bitterness, hostility and hatred, all his emptiness, is gone. And it’s a new Scrooge.”

Helping the bottom line

Philanthropy is important for corporate health as well.

“Business ethics used to be this dreadful, boring, horrible stuff about just merely do no harm,” Post said. ”Now, if you look at the great corporations, there’s a tremendous emphasis on encouraging employees (to volunteer or donate). They all understand that if they can create a climate of generosity, of concern about all people, they know that this is great for the world around them, great for their employees, great for their morale, and ultimately great for the success of their companies:’

Radwell’s charity doesn’t stop with toys during the holiday. In fact, the walls of the company’s new global headquarters in Willingboro are lined with dozens of large cardboard replicas of checks the company has awarded to various organizations over the years. Beyond the corporate donations are contributions, of both time and money, from Radwell’s nearly 1,000 employees.

“I can tell you, there’s not a time when there’s not a collection here,” said Brian Radwell, CEO of the company founded by his father, Jerry, in the 1970s.

Several years ago, the company founded ROCK (Radwell Operation of Caring and Kindness), which operates in each of Radwell’s nine sites in the United States, Europe and Canada, and provides volunteers and donations for local organizations.

“It’s been part of our building and history from day one,” Radwell said. “Were not trying to generate revenue dollars by donating. We’re building an atmosphere in the company where it’s known, and everyone is doing it as a group. It’s not just myself giving back. Giving back money and things like that is easy. But to build something where a bunch of people drive toward goals builds a tight-knit family of people at Radwell. It shows them it’s not all about money for us:’

Recently, employees at the Mount Laurel law firm Parker McCay donned jeans for the day in exchange for donating money to the Burlington County Civil Air Patrol. But the recipient of the donation drive quickly changed to the family of retired Cinnaminson Detective Sgt. Francis X. Rooney, an Evesham resident who died of a heart attack earlier this month while delivering packages for UPS. One of Rooney’s six children is involved in the organization.

“It was very emotional,’ said Margie McLaughlin, the firm’s chief human resources officer. People were peeling off $50, $60, $70. They were pulling their pennies out of their handbags to support that. When a company supports their employees in doing things like that, it creates a greater sense of dedication to the employer. You feel good your company gave you an opportunity to do something like that.”

McLaughlin said the firm takes its philanthropic duty seriously. This holiday season, it has collected food for the Food Bank of South Jersey and toys for local children. But its philanthropy doesn’t stop there.

“It’s important for businesses who operate in an area to realize they don’t operate in vacuum,” she said. “If they want to be supported by the local community for their business, they need to be an active partner. You take up space. You pull resources from an area. You ought to be a part of that community that you work in.”

Fellow law firm Capehart Scatchard takes a similar approach, managing shareholder Mary Ellen Rose said.

“We have over 170 employees that all come from the local area,” Rose said. “We consider it both a privilege and an obligation to serve our community.”

Employees at the Mount Laurel firm are required to participate with a local nonprofit group of their choosing, either through volunteerism and donations. The company also makes its own contributions to various groups.

“We’re in the service industry,” Rose said. “It’s important when you make money from the local areas that you give back, too.” While the holidays are critical for nonprofits, leaders say the generosity does not stop there.

“The good news is, we live in a caring community that understands that giving is needed 365 days a year,” Cawley said. “The bad news is, the needs are 365 days a year as well.”