Originally created 12/24/06

Spirit of giving lives in Augusta



Salvation Army Maj. Leisa Hall has been stationed in lots of communities during her long career, but Augusta stands out as one of the most generous.

"My impression is Augustans are very supportive of nonprofit organizations, and not just the Salvation Army," she said. "And they help out with not only money, but also time and support."

Last year, for example, during the Salvation Army's holiday kettle drive, Augusta led the state in contributions, she said.

"Even when they broke Atlanta down into six or seven different regions, Augusta beat all of them in charitable giving," she said. "We were consistently, in December and overall, tops in the state."

Just as Augusta stands out from the rest of the state, Georgia is one of the most generous states in the nation, according to a new study by the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, which ranked the Peach State seventh nationwide in giving.

"Some of that giving goes out of state and some is local," said John Havens, the center's senior associate director. "You get one set of numbers where the charity is located and another where the donations originate, and they are both true."

Top-ranking states have several common denominators.

"One of the things that distinguishes generous states is higher education and the number of people with advanced degrees," he said. "When you have MDs, PhDs, law degrees, etc., it usually leads to higher amounts of giving."

Mike Firmin, the executive director of Golden Harvest Food Bank, doesn't need statistics to prove the Augusta region is generous.

"We have a charge to feed the hungry, because we have a poverty rate of 20 percent," he said. "God gave these people here the heart of generosity."

When the food bank was established 25 years ago, it existed solely on paper, he said.

"We had no warehouse, no staff," he said. "Now, because of the generosity of not only Augusta, but the whole region, we're still growing."

This year, the bank set another record with the distribution of 10 million pounds of food, compared with 9.6 million pounds in 2005 and 9.2 million in 2004.

"We have the food and funds coming in to support that growth," he said. "We probably have 300 separate agencies, community groups and churches that we distribute food to."

LaVerne Gold, the interim president of United Way of the CSRA Inc., said examples of the area's benevolence are everywhere.

"Augusta is a caring community to so many different causes," she said. "After 9-11, lots of money went out of this community to help people far away. Even with something on a small scale, like a family fire, you'll have their employer or someone local put on a drive for them."

As one of the region's largest charities, United Way works with and depends heavily on corporations for much of its support, which is used to support a host of other groups.

"It's impossible to determine which communities are the biggest givers, but communities that have a lot of company headquarters tend to do very well," Ms. Gold said. "I think we have a legacy of giving in this city."

TOP 10 STATES FOR CHARITABLE GIVING

1. New York 6. New Jersey
2. Utah 7. Georgia
3. California 8. Massachusetts
4. Connecticut 9. Hawaii
5. Maryland 10. South Carolina

Source: Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, Boston College

QUESTIONS OF CHARITY

Questions you can ask to help identify the best charities:


- Is the person seeking donations a volunteer? Does the person work for the charity or a professional fundraiser?


- Is there an address or phone number where the solicitor and the charity can be reached?


- What percentage of the contribution will the charity receive?


- Is the organization registered with the secretary of state as a charitable organization?


- Will the money be used in Georgia and, if so, in the city or county in which you live?


- Does the organization have tax-exempt status? Is your contribution tax-deductible?


Source: Georgia secretary of state's office

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.