Economic Stimulus Checks Fund Faith Projects

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By Emily Fredrix
Associated Press
Saturday, June 28, 2008

MILWAUKEE -- Budget cuts to Rod McLean's church youth group jeopardized a summer mission trip to Washington state.

As he wondered how he could help the group meet its $13,000 budget, he remembered the federal tax rebate. He decided to donate his stimulus check and persuade others at Lake Edge United Church of Christ in Madison, Wis., to do the same.

"I thought, 'What a natural,' " said McLean, a 67-year-old retiree. "If a lot of people can give 10, 15, 20 percent of that, it's not like digging into their normal budgets."

He told church leaders of his idea, and the Share the Windfall Fund was born.

The church of about 900 members in Wisconsin's capital city isn't alone. United Church of Christ members, Lutherans, Quakers and members of other religious groups are asking people to donate at least part of their checks to their groups or other charities.

The federal government hopes to stimulate the economy with the $110 billion it's returning to taxpayers this spring and summer. But many see the extra money as an opportunity for charity.

"It's an unbelievable amount of cash that people of faith or people of conscience could choose to say, 'You know, we could get along without this. We could put this money to use,' " said Ken Sehested, co-pastor at the Circle of Mercy church in Asheville, N.C.

His congregation of about 50 adults, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and Alliance of Baptists, voted to give at least 10 percent of their checks to charities. He and his wife plan to give their entire $1,200 check to the church's partner congregation in Cuba.

Religious groups traditionally receive the most donations in the United States.

In 2006, the most recent year for which data are available, $295 billion was donated in the United States, according to Giving USA Foundation, with research from the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy. Of that, nearly one-third, $97 million, went to religious groups.

Sandra Enos, a sociologist at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., who specializes in nonprofit groups and philanthropy, said donations to food pantries and other local charities can benefit the economy as much as spending on a new TV or vacation.

"Boy, if you're feeding local people who are hungry, it's like locally spurring the economy, so it's a wise economic choice, it seems," she said.


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