A few months ago, the Greater Washington Research Center reported that we rank last among six major metropolitan areas when it comes to philanthropy -- that is, last when it comes to raising funds for local causes, last in local foundation assets and grants, last in corporate giving and last in donations to the United Way.
Yet we rank first in white-collar employes, first in the percentage of women in the work force and very high in the total number of workers in well-paying professional, technical, managerial and administrative jobs.
Does this mean that Washingtonians are stingy? Not exactly. After witnessing the pre-Thanksgiving Day preparations by several local churches and soup kitchens, it appears that we at least try to make up for the lack of donations by doing volunteer work.
Several soup kitchens report that they now have waiting lists of people who want to donate their time and energy to feed the homeless and hungry. At one small church in Northwest Washington, whose pastor is the Rev. Charles Hood, members assembled more than 100 bags of groceries, each stuffed with a turkey -- for people who could not afford the traditional feast.
Yet, as Hood made pickups and deliveries, it became clear that the people who were doing the giving were not necessarily affluent, but just ordinary folk who had at one time been poor and know what it's like to do without. The same was true among volunteers at the soup kitchens. These were people who in some cases worked two jobs and didn't really have a lot of time to give, but the time they had they used to help somebody else.
For the most part, they were hard-working Washingtonians who felt a sense of community, who lived and worked among the needy and saw the plight of the less fortunate as part of their own.
Which brings us to the more well-to-do folk, those who came here to make a buck and seem to have difficulty parting with more than a coin dropped in a 7-Eleven countertop bucket.
"Much of the reason for this lack of local interest stems from the transient nature of the capital city," wrote Kathleen Hallahan in an article for Foundation News. "Those who live there often act more like visitors than residents, and indeed many of them are. The large transient population of military, federal workers and lobbyists consider home to be where they were raised and thus focus much of their charitable activity there or on national nonprofits."
But there are some well-to-do folk who have been giving and helping in their hometown for a long time.
The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation gives exclusively to the Washington area. The Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation heavily supports local arts and educational efforts. The April Trust and the Corina Higginson Trust are committed to reducing the the number of low-birth-weight babies through improved prenatal care.
Along those same lines are the Hattie M. Strong Foundation and The Community Foundation of Greater Washington, which funds the successful "Better Babies Project."
In a city where education is widely recognized as one of the best preventive medicines around, the Philip L. Graham Fund and the Washington Parents Group Fund provide matching money to parents of children in 37 low-income schools to pay for remedial and enrichment programs. The Graham Fund and Cafritz Foundations offer cash awards to classroom teachers for outstanding work. And the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation helps teachers prepare students for the world of work.
Last but not least, there is the United Way, which frankly does it all.
Giving to any one (or make it two) of these groups goes a long way to making Washington a better place to live. So think about it and have a happy Thanksgiving Day.