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Columnist
Day of Giving great way to battle apathy in troubled times
By Jim Davis | DuPage Editor
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Published: 8/15/2008 8:56 AM | Updated: 8/15/2008 9:23 AM

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Philanthropy, I'll bet, is on a downswing.

People are struggling to pay for a tank of gas, food at the store and other essentials; how can they find money to give to charity these days?

Earlier this summer, as gas prices topped $4 a gallon, we wrote about how it was even cutting into volunteerism. Good-hearted people were scaling back their time because of the cost of driving to various charitable organizations.

But there is a gift - priceless but also very inexpensive - many can give: the gift of time.

I bring this up now because Giving DuPage, a group the Daily Herald has long helped sponsor, is gearing up for its upcoming "DuPage Remembers and Gives ... A Day of Volunteerism."

It was spawned in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. On the tragic day's first anniversary, Giving DuPage decided that, with the terrorist attacks so fresh in everyone's minds, we'd have a very distracted workforce. Rather than just shrug at the lack of productivity that day, why not let everyone take some time off work and throw themselves into helping those in need of help?

That first day of giving yielded about 400 volunteers who signed up for 70 projects, ranging from planting wildflower seeds to painting railings at a retirement home.

You might think that the initial rush of enthusiasm has waned in recent years. That's been anything but the case. Last year, there were virtually the same number of projects, but 2,200 people volunteered to give back to the community.

It may have helped that Giving DuPage moved its volunteer opportunities to be more weekend-oriented, because, let's be honest, not every employer can afford to give up a chunk of its workforce for the afternoon. (In fact, here's a personal anecdote: Many years ago, our city editor, Bob Smith, and I were "arrested" and taken to the Naperville Police Department, not to be released until we raised a specific amount of pleges for the American Cancer Society. Late in the day, I was getting fairly desperate, so I called our late publisher Stu Paddock and company president Doug Ray. Stu gave a generous donation, and Doug asked me how much we need to get over the top. He cheerfully forked it over - but with the tongue-in-cheek proviso that Bob and I get back to work ASAP.)

This year, Giving DuPage is targeting Sept. 12 and 13 as its days of giving. The group's Web site, www.givingdupage.org, has dozens of projects in need of volunteers. If you'd prefer to call, the number is (630) 407-6458. Registration deadline is Sept. 1.

But don't worry if your weekend's booked and you'd like to give back some time some other time.This year's theme is "Volunteerism is an Everyday Event." I'd presume that's designed to combat complacency, i.e. the way donations to the food pantries inevitably dry up after the holidays.

To promote that, Giving DuPage is hosting its first Volunteer Recruitment Fair. It's from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 13 and 14 at Cantigny in Wheaton. The group also is debuting its first Annual Giving Guide, matching volunteers with agencies in need of them. It replaces the Holiday Giving Guide, no doubt for some of the same reasons I mentioned earlier.

The volunteer fair coincides with a Revolutionary War re-enactment and emergency preparedness fair at Cantigny.

So, if reflecting on war or getting ready for disaster doesn't fill all your needs, try stopping by the Giving DuPage booth and give volunteerism a try.

jdavis@dailyherald.com