When did the holidays go up for sale?

December 25, 2012

“Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. Buy now and your cost will be only $9.95.”

Jacob Brunette
Issaquah High School

That is the American holiday season in a nutshell; the time of year in which we celebrate love, peace and incredible savings.

It seems that every year, however, the incredible savings start sooner, and the love and peace get pushed further into the background.

As soon as Halloween is over, the holiday season has begun. Stores start selling Christmas lights and decorations. Santa Claus appears on TV, advertising cars and clothing.

Holiday music loops endlessly in the mall. Every year, the onslaught of commercials starts a little sooner in an attempt to extend the lucrative period of holiday shopping for as long as possible.

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Seniors share holiday traditions, memories

December 18, 2012

When asked what their favorite holiday memory is, most people will say spending time with loved ones. Dig a little deeper and the holidays are home to a whole score of memories.

Al Watenpaugh, 85, still remembers one Christmas present in particular. Around age 10, he went feeling around under the Christmas tree, trying to see if he could suss out what surprises the gift-wrapped packages held. Feeling around, his fingers moved across a shape that was unmistakable.

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Celebrating Hanukkah in Issaquah / Dec. 9, 2012

December 11, 2012

Sammamish Symphony joins choir to create sounds of season

December 4, 2012

One of Sammamish’s holiday traditions, the Holiday Pops concert by the Sammamish Symphony, will have a new twist this year.

John Patrick Lowrie, known for work at the Village Theatre and voice-acting in a host of popular video games, will read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” to the accompaniment of the symphony.

“We try to make it interesting,” said R. Joseph Scott, conductor of the symphony.

The show will feature a host of popular holiday songs, Scott said, including Christmas and Hanukkah songs.

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Report offers tips for donors to avoid holiday charity scams

December 3, 2012

NEW — 10 a.m. Dec. 3, 2012

Secretary of State Sam Reed and state Attorney General Rob McKenna urged consumers to beware holiday charity scams Wednesday, and unveiled a report to help residents donate wisely.

Throughout 2012, charities using commercial fundraisers in Washington received 46 percent of total donations raised by the fundraisers — lower than the 56 percent in the 2011 report and a major drop from the  77 percent in the 2010 report.

But the percentage individual fundraisers retained varied. Some fundraisers kept less than 10 percent and sent the remaining funds to charity. Other fundraisers’ fees and expenses exceeded the amount raised.

The report, compiled by the Charities Program in Reed’s office and released Nov. 29, spotlights recent financial information for commercial fundraisers soliciting or collecting donations on behalf of charity clients.

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Issaquah holiday activities offer fa-la-la fun

November 27, 2012

Bartell Drugs and Salvation Army’s Toy ‘n’ Joy drive through Dec. 14, accepts new, unwrapped gifts for children up to age 14, or shoppers can chose a gift request tag item in the store and put it in the donation barrel in the store. The Issaquah Bartell is at 5700 E. Lake Sammamish Parkway S.E. Learn more at www.bartelldrugs.com.

Toys for Troops seeks donations for Christmas presents for children of service members. Drop off donations through Dec. 15 at the Issaquah Police Station, 130 E. Sunset Way, or make financial donations at www.operationbaldeagle.org.

Small Works Holiday Exhibition, through Dec. 29, artEAST Art Center, 95 Front St. N., 392-3191, www.arteast.org

Downtown Issaquah holiday lights work party, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 1, meet at Hailstone Feed Store, 232 Front St., a lunch break at noon features donated pizza from Flying Pie Pizza, call 391-1112 to volunteer

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Local charities combat ‘compassion fatigue’ amid year-end giving

December 20, 2011

What to know

If you make a donation to a charity this year, you may be able to take a deduction on your tax return. In order to help taxpayers interested in making charitable donations — and tax deductions — the Internal Revenue Service offers the following tips:

Make sure the organization qualifies — Charitable contributions must be made to qualified organizations to be deductible. Find a list of qualified organizations in IRS Publication 78, Cumulative List of Organizations, at www.irs.gov.

What you can deduct — You can deduct your cash contributions and the fair market value of most property you donate to a qualified organization, but special rules apply to several types of donated property, including clothing or household items, cars and boats.

When you receive something in return — If your contribution entitles you to receive merchandise, goods or services in return — such as admission to a charity banquet or sporting event — you can deduct only the amount exceeding the fair market value of the benefit received.

How to keep records — Keep records of any contribution you make, regardless of the amount. For any cash contribution, you must maintain a record of the contribution, such as a cancelled check, bank or credit card statement, payroll deduction record or a written statement from the charity containing the date and amount of the contribution and the name of the organization.

Handling pledges and payments — Only contributions actually made during the tax year qualify as deductible. For example, if you pledged $500 in September but paid the charity only $200 by Dec. 31, you can only deduct $200.

Many legitimate charities use telemarketing, direct mail, email and online ads to ask for contributions. Unfortunately, scam artists also use the same techniques to defraud donors. If someone asks for a donation, take time to learn about the charity:

Ask for the charity’s name, address, phone number and written information about its programs.

Ask whether the person contacting you is a professional fundraiser and how much of your contribution is meant for fundraising costs.

Check the history of the organization with the Washington Secretary of State’s Office at www.sos.wa.gov.

Potential donors should also know the warning signs of a scam:

Reject high-pressure pitches, and remember: It’s OK to hang up.

Be skeptical of a thank-you message for a pledge you do not remember making.; scam artists will lie to get your money.

Avoid giving cash donations.

Avoid charities offering to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect money.

Avoid charities guaranteeing sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution.

Avoid charities forming overnight, especially in the aftermath of natural disasters, or claim to be for police officers, veterans or firefighters.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

The year is almost over, and unending calls, email and mailers requesting donations pour in at the same pace as Christmas cards.

The need is up for local human services organizations and other nonprofit groups, but as the economy remains anemic, leaders at such organizations raised concerns about “compassion fatigue” — a drop-off in chartable donations due to overexposure to calls for aid.

Issaquah and, indeed, the entire Puget Sound region maintain a long-held reputation for generosity to charitable causes. However, compassion fatigue is acute, especially as local organizations assist more people amid the economic downturn and groups face the ever-present prospect of additional cuts as local and state governments trim spending.

“Where does the fatigue come from? I think it comes from the number of people asking in a noncoordinated fashion that are all trying different strategies,” said Jared Erlandson, public relations manager for United Way of King County.

Timing is another factor. The entreaties from nonprofit organizations come amid the holiday season, as people juggle commitments.

“Our experience is that people give at the end of the year,” Together Center Executive Director Pam Mauk said. “That’s when they think about it. That’s when they want to give.”

(The nonprofit Together Center, a human services campus in Redmond, serves clients from Issaquah and elsewhere on the Eastside.)

But the deluge from numerous nonprofit organizations can sometimes turn off potential donors.

“People are indeed swamped by the requests and probably aren’t appreciative of all the requests that they’re getting,” Mauk said.

Organizations also need to offer a compelling message to donate in order to cut through the clutter to reach potential donors.

“You can’t be saying the same thing every time,” Erlandson said. “If you’re always saying, ‘The sky is falling. Things are worse now than they’ve ever been. The need is greater.’ Those are the kind of catchphrases that, I think cause compassion fatigue.”

Still, the limping economy has created a greater need and especially a temporary need for people slow to rebound after job losses or other setbacks.

“We all know somebody who needs a hand right now and may not a month from now,” Erlandson said.

Though donations spike in the aftermath of major tragedies, such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, giving is sometimes tougher for organizations addressing ongoing issues, such as homelessness and poverty.

“We know that people in a huge, epic disaster don’t even think twice. It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, Katrina, where’s my checkbook?’” Erlandson said. “Those kinds of donations are over and above their normal giving.”

Claire Petersky, executive director of Sammamish-based Eastside Friends of Seniors, said showing potential donors how funding is used is important.

“Whether you are donating or whether you are volunteering, I think if you see a visible change in somebody else’s life, then you have a feeling that this isn’t like a never-ending pit of need,” she said.

The solution for Eastside Friends of Seniors is to send regular updates to donors about how donations assist the organization’s mission to aid local senior citizens. Petersky said a board member even joined the organization after reading about Eastside Friends of Seniors’ accomplishments in a message sent to donors and volunteers.

“I know I made a difference in that person’s life. I think that that gives a sense of accomplishment and helps overcome that sensation of being overwhelmed,” Petersky said.

(The organization changed names from Faith in Action to Eastside Friends of Seniors in late September.)

Contact between organizations and donors throughout the year is essential, too, leaders at local nonprofit groups said.

“If people see, here’s my 50 bucks, here’s my 100 bucks and they never hear back from you, they never see any result, they don’t know what that donation accomplished, it’s going to really compile for next year or later on this year when you go back to ask these people,” Erlandson said. “So, for us, a key is showing results.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

International Smile Power, dentists aid Tent City 4 residents

December 20, 2011

Issaquah-based International Smile Power and local dentists teamed up last month to brighten Tent City 4 residents’ smiles.

The nonprofit International Smile Power and Dr. Jeffrey Zent, a local dentist, combined resources to treat more than 30 Tent City 4 residents at Zent’s offices. For the Nov. 19 event, 20 dentists, hygienists, assistants and drivers participated to offer the residents dental care at no cost.

“This is the second time we have hosted Tent City 4 and it has been a very rewarding event,” Zent said. “We were able to provide 20 cleanings, 36 fillings, 39 extractions and multiple dentures.”

In the past, providing dentures to Tent City 4 residents posed a challenge, but for the November event, denturist Perry Balcom offered his services. Balcom donated many dentures, and International Smile Power donated others.

“In the past, we have been able to fix broken teeth and get people out of pain,” Zent said. “But this year, we have been able to give people a smile or even just a way to eat with Perry’s dentures. This will have a major impact on their life.”

International Smile Power delivers dental health care, supplies, education and training to underserved people in the United States and around the globe.

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Holiday gifts can benefit King County Parks

December 20, 2011

King County Parks leaders encouraged people to consider holiday gifts to support the county parks system.

Shoppers can browse King County Parks’ online store to create custom holiday cards, purchase parks-themed stamps or donate to the King County Parks Legacy Fund.

Sales benefit King County Parks’ 26,000 acres of public land, including Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park and Duthie Hill Park near Issaquah, plus hundreds of miles of regional and backcountry trails systems.

The online retailer Zazzle donates up to 27 percent of net sales from purchased items back to King County Parks.

The agency has also joined www.41pounds.org, a nonprofit organization formed to reduce waste and pollution by helping people to limit the amount of junk mail they receive, to raise dollars for parks and programs.

The organization has pledged to donate to King County Parks for every subscriber referred through the King County Parks page, www.kingcounty.gov/recreation/parks.aspx.

Leaders urge donors to avoid holiday charity scams

December 15, 2011

NEW — 3 p.m. Dec. 15, 2011

Secretary of State Sam Reed and state Attorney General Rob McKenna urged consumers to beware holiday charity scams Wednesday, and unveiled a report to help people donate wisely.

The report, compiled by the Charities Division in Reed’s office, spotlights recent financial information for commercial fundraisers soliciting or collecting donations on behalf of charity clients. The causes vary and include police, firefighter and veteran organizations, medical research, animals, civil liberties, environmental issues and more.

Throughout 2011, charities using commercial fundraisers in Washington received 56 percent of total donations raised by the fundraisers — lower than the 77 percent in last year’s report. But the percentage individual fundraisers retained varied.

Some fundraisers kept less than 10 percent and sent the remaining amount to charity. Others raised less money for a charity than what the charity paid for the fundraising service.

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