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Charities hope Christmas inspires generosity

<p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>Community Director and Immigration Program Supervisor Linda Spencer looks through a file at Catholic Charities Hawaii on Wednesday afternoon.</p>


Tribune-Herald staff writer

The end-of-year holidays are always prime time for giving — and for thinking about taxes. Giving and taxes go together like tinsel and trees for charitable organizations that rely on the generosity of donors seeking deductions from their income taxes.

“The end of the year is a time when many people give,” said An Umamoto, development, PR and education coordinator for Hospice of Hilo. The spirit of the holiday encourages giving, of course, but December 31 is the last opportunity to gain tax advantages for donations to charities in 2012.

Hospice of Hilo provides care for anyone facing a life-limiting illness, death or grief. Care is focused on comfort and managing pain and symptoms for patients and their families so they can live each day as fully as possible.

Hospice of Hilo stages an annual “Light Up A Life” fundraising event each holiday season as a way for the public to remember loved ones. “Trees of Remembrance” are located at the two inside entrances to Macy’s at Prince Kuhio Plaza where celebrants may hang an ornament bearing the name of a friend or family member who has died along with a handwritten message. Donations to Hospice for the ornament are accepted, though optional, Umamoto said.

The annual Holiday Dinner & Auction is Hospice’s primary fundraiser. This year’s event on Dec. 15 is already sold out of its 230 tickets, said Umamoto, which is the maximum number of seats available in the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel’s Moku Ola Room.

“This has been very healthy year for us,” Umamoto said. “We’re very fortunate.”

Opening of a new 12-suite care center in August for patients unable to receive hospice care in their home was a big impetus for giving this year, Umamoto said. “We’re just so grateful to the community for trusting us with their contributions. “It really makes a difference.”

Stella Wong, vice president of programs for Catholic Charities Hawaii, said individuals and organizations often increase their giving during the holidays and the agency is appreciative, but the donations can be a “double-edged sword,” Wong said.

Catholic Charities Hawaii, a $24 million non-profit agency, has been serving the needy statewide for 65 years. and maintains offices in Hilo and Kona.

“We do get donations … from all over,” including corporations, individuals and Catholic parishes throughout the state. Wong said. “We also have giving trees, and people are willing to adopt a family.”

The end of the year also brings a spike in cash donations because “people need a tax break,” said Wong.

But individual donors often offer gifts of things like clothing items when the agency’s clients really would like gift cards so they can buy their prescription drugs, or personal items like toilet paper, the basics, said Wong. “(Gifts) are really nice, but sometimes the gifts don’t match the client’s needs.”

Holiday giving also puts stress on the staff to match the right donor with the right client. “We make sure everyone is covered,” Wong said. “Also, please, don’t wrap your gifts. We don’t want to give anything like candy to a diabetic, or something inappropriate to a child.”

Wong said contributions from economically hard-hit Hawaii Island parishes are increasing this year, while local businesses still seem to be having a difficult time financially.

Charities on average take in about 40 percent of their annual donations during the holiday season, according surveys conducted by the Web site Charity Navigator. And the average American gives 4.7 percent of their income to charities, and makes 24 percent of their annual donations between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, according to research from the Center on Philanthropy.

The Hawaii Island YWCA is taking advantage of the season for a fund raising campaign to match an anonymous donor’s challenge to match a $30,000 gift for much-needed pool repairs. The YWCA’s “Holiday Challenge” to the community is to raise $30,000 by Dec. 31. Whether for simply the joy of giving and helping preserve a community resource, for just the tax break, or both, the YWCA will accept the donation all the same, said Lorraine Davis, interim director.

At the Hawaii Island United Way, Jeanine Atebara is in the midst of the HIUW’s annual community fund raising campaign and said the organization doesn’t have specific holiday-related fund raising events.

But a gift that fell into her lap recently really feels like one, she said.

Former San Francisco 49er football player and “Hawaii boy” Jesse Sapolu agreed to do a signing session for his new book, “I Gave my Heart To San Francisco,” at Cronies on Dec. 4, and donate the proceeds to HIUW. Sapolu will also bring a supply of 49ers memorabilia to be auctioned for the HIUW, and the highlight will be an auction for two tickets to a San Francisco 49ers home game in 2013, including on-field passes and a tailgate party with Sapolu.

The NFL is a strong supporting partner of the United Way movement across the United States, Atebara said, and she couldn’t be more thrilled. “This came to us unexpected,” she said. “It’s a gift, and it’s December.” So it’s just like Christmas.

Email Hunter Bishop


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