Due to the pandemic and the federal government’s response, about 150 million Americans are eligible to receive stimulus checks. Yet when my wife and I found out we were going to receive a check we started to ask: do we really need it all, or might we know somebody who needs it more?
Several weeks ago, two friends and I in Denver hopped on a call to explore what we could do to help. After some back and forth, we decided to start a website called SharetheStimulus.org.
The idea is simple: we’re asking people to make a pledge to give a portion of their stimulus check to any cause or person in need, go and make a donation, and then share the story with us. And it’s getting some traction. Here’s a story 303 magazine did about the movement.
We’re now about 3 weeks into this project and here’s what we’ve learned.
(1) People like giving in community rather than alone. As we reached out to individuals, churches, businesses and nonprofits, we found that it was really pastoral leaders who took this idea and ran with it.
One pastor, Jim Bergen of Flatirons Church, asked his congregants to consider whether they needed all of their stimulus check, and if they didn’t, give 50 percent away. Just in their church, as of April 28 they had 521 people give a portion of their stimulus checks. Woodmen Valley Church in Colorado Springs had 395 givers give nearly $200,000 in just two weeks.
What we learned was that it was far more effective to ask people to give alongside trusted community, like a church, than it was to give individually. Churches are critical avenues of generosity and trust in a time of need, and as unemployment benefits drop at the end of July, they’ll be critical support systems as the recession deepens.
(2) People like giving locally. What have people given to? People have given to all sorts of charities, like food banks, rescue missions, or organizations caring for immigrants. But they’ve also been really creative: one person gave a writing desk to a person who was out of work to finish her novel. One person gave his stimulus to cover the medical bills of neighbor. One family made a list of single people they knew and did a circuit of dropping off meals and homemade cards.
When it comes to giving, many feel alienated, like it’s only something for the affluent. One man said, “‘Generosity’ is normally something commended to upper-middle class and wealthy people. But this felt like a ‘generosity for the rest of us’ idea. We can all realize our affluence and identify others with greater needs than we have.”
This movement of “giving in the middle” is a powerful force, not only for economic impact, but for creating social capital and real relationships in a time of isolation.
(3) Widespread giving is a powerful tool for social and personal renewal. In Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build he said that social reform and the renewal of our institutions requires personal renewal. Thinking about my own experience sharing our family’s stimulus check, I think this is right.
Last weekend our family had fun sharing our stimulus check by putting together an elaborate gift package with goodies for our grandma who was shut into her nursing home. As we drove by in a family parade in front of her nursing home and cheered on Grandma Alberta, I felt this deep sense of joy wash over me. It really was more blessed to give than to receive.
Ryan Streeter mentioned in a USA Today 0p-ed that perhaps now is a time for a national tithe. Perhaps forms of local generosity – even something as small as giving a portion of an unexpected check to a neighbor – may be just what our hearts, and society, need most.