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Giving Tuesday looks to launch holidays with charitable spirit

“Stop trying to change the world and look at who is in front of you instead,” Jason Sowell says.
Published Oct. 9, 2014

While some have been busy scooping up holiday deals during Black Friday and lining up their credit cards for tomorrow's Cyber Monday event, others are making plans for a new type of holiday tradition this week: Giving Tuesday.

In the spirit of holiday giving, Giving Tuesday began in 2012 as a national movement to encourage people to participate in charitable acts. The momentum behind Giving Tuesday? Create a national day of philanthropy the day after the series of branded shopping promotions.

From business owners to nonprofit organizations to volunteers, no act of charity is considered too small.

"People tend to get lost in the bigness of trying to save the world," said Jason Sowell, founder and president of the nonprofit organization Current of Tampa Bay. "Stop trying to change the world and look at who is in front of you instead."

Sowell first learned of Giving Tuesday late last year and used social media to get the word out.

"I thought it was a neat idea but I didn't fully understand it," he said. "But I knew I wanted to make it happen this year."

He decided to generate a campaign for Current's upcoming Affordable Christmas event on Saturday and promote it with Giving Tuesday. In its third year, Affordable Christmas is an agency-referred, invitation-only shopping event created for low-income families in Hillsborough County as a means to purchase new holiday items for a small percentage of their original price.

Financial hardship might have forced some families to choose paying for bills over holiday gifts.

"But this year, as the name suggests, families can afford a Christmas," Sowell said.

Sowell emphasized the fact that the event is not free and how dignity plays a vital role.

"People like to feel they can manage their own funds," he said. "It's all about empowerment, not enabling."

Individuals interested in making a donation can visit Current's website, christmasbycurrent.org, and either make a financial contribution or purchase new items from a list, such as the popular Rainbow Loom.

Although the Affordable Christmas campaign is financially driven by donors, Sowell said the nonprofit and its volunteers are investing time, thought and energy as well as finances.

The one thing that resonates for Sowell about this event is the children.

"In any financial situation, kids don't have a choice. They can't fix it," he said. "Something as simple as Affordable Christmas can change their lives."

Last year, 41 families (with a combined 138 kids) were invited to participate. This year, he anticipates an increase to include about 65 families.

Sowell said his hope is that as the children get older, they will remember their positive experience and give back to the community as adults. Niki Paksoy, marketing director of the United Way Suncoast, shares a similar ideology.

"I've recently felt overwhelmed by the amount of stuff people in our society have, including me, and how it sometimes seems to control our lives."

Paksoy said the United Way Suncoast was approached by the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay to help generate local awareness about Giving Tuesday.

She plans to take part in Giving Tuesday by reminding herself to keep life simple and give back to others.

"That morning, I'll volunteer as a tutor for a 7-year-old who needs help with reading," she said. "I'll think about sustainable things I can do, such as giving to charities in people's names instead of buying something — more stuff — for them."

Lalita Llerana, communications director for the Tampa YMCA, said the Y will accept donations on Giving Tuesday, as well as throughout the year, and the funds will go directly to help children and families participate in its programs throughout the year, regardless of their financial situation.

Dress for Success Tampa Bay will stage a shoe drive for Giving Tuesday. The nonprofit organization, known for helping women re-enter the workforce in style, has created a contest asking individuals to donate as many pairs of shoes as possible, naming the event #GivingShoesDay. The top 10 shoe donors will be rewarded with a complimentary pair of ruby red Palace heels designed by Fergie Footwear.

Alpha House, Academy Prep of Tampa, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Pinellas and Big Cat Rescue are among other nonprofits engaging in the day, according to the Giving Tuesday Tampa Bay Facebook page.

Susan Casper, the chief financial officer for United Way Suncoast, considers this time of year a time to give back. The former elementary school teacher believes education is critically important; last year Casper helped support the office effort to provide uniforms for children in an underserved neighborhood where United Way provided support services.

"I believe the message of the season is to give with love," she said. She plans to pay tribute to her beloved cousin, Jean Brown, who recently passed away, by giving a Giving Tuesday gift in Brown's honor.

Last year she and her adult family members made a decision to contribute to charity rather than give presents to each other.

However, Casper considers the impact of all types of giving.

"Giving Tuesday does not have to be about making a contribution — it can also be about volunteering your time."

She, her husband and her grandson regularly help prepare meals for the homeless on Sunday mornings. She said her family has learned so much about the challenges faced by people in the community.

"In this type of volunteerism, we receive much more than we give."

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