These building blocks required for economic improvements are so simple. You start with food – the way you stay alive. Everything follows from that – education, professional, and family – none of that can happen on an empty stomach…
Location: Ithaca, New York
Profession: Mayor of Ithaca
What is your charity of choice?:
Food and Hunger are two causes I care for deeply. The Food Bank of the Southern Tier distributes millions of pounds of food yearly to people in need. Growing up the way that I did, four kids who lived in homeless shelters who at times weren’t able to buy groceries or the food we needed, our food pantry was always there for us and that made a big impact on me. They have a BackPack program on weekends which sends kids home with backpacks of food so that they aren’t hungry over the weekend. When my mom’s paycheck didn’t stretch, they were always there for us. They are there for the kids trying to stay out of trouble so that they can focus without a rumble in your stomach.
Tell us more about how your job enables you to be philanthropically minded:
In my professional life, I’m also addressing these issues, tackling the systemic issue of poverty, enabling people to climb the ladder towards success. I’ve been focusing on housing as well to provide more affordable housing. I don’t make enough money to donate a home. But, in my professional life as Mayor, I can make people aware of issues. These building blocks required for economic improvements are so simple. You start with food – the way you stay alive. Everything follows from that – education, professional, and family – none of that can happen on an empty stomach.
How do you give of your time?:
I have a unique circumstance. My time is now my platform because I’m the Mayor of a city, I have a bit of a megaphone to talk about causes. I used to volunteer at the Food Bank, picking up donations. I used to do tutoring local middle schools and high schools. Now, as Mayor, I have less time to do hands on service work, but I do find it’s proven helpful to donate the attention I can bring via events and social media.
This Thanksgiving, I worked with Aladdin’s, a popular restaurant in Ithaca. They provided 200 people in need with a meal – all sat down in a restaurant, not at a food pantry. They served meals with dignity. Helping out, they let me serve meals. Most of what I did was helping getting the word out through social media and press. I’ve also been doing that with Food Bank of The Southern Tier – they put my face on billboards, filmed tv and radio commercials. For me, making the time to do that and post photos is such an easy way to give time and I’m glad I have the chance to do it. I’ve also been invited to speak places. If they have a honorarium, I ask them to offer that as a donation to benefit a cause.
Who is a philanthropic role model to you?:
I think about people in my church, especially growing up and locally in Ithaca. It’s amazing what people will do out of their own pocket without concern for credit or how much they have. It’s a remarkable thing. People locally in Ithaca like John Alexander, a Cornell graduate who stayed in the area, he has been so successful and he didn’t have as much growing up. He has been an amazing champion for the Food Bank. You have a self-made guy who came from a humble background, choosing not to forget it and to give. He is an inspiration for me.
What would you say to people to encourage their philanthropy?:
I think the best thing I could say is you won’t believe the joy you will get out of your gift. Buying something for yourself will feel good for a while. That gift to people in need, especially when it’s an issue of importance, that’s the kind of gift that will last forever. Giving to others is really the best gift you can give to yourself.
I’m not able to donate a lot because of my government salary, but I find even small donations make a difference. Whether it’s to my Debate club or Fraternity, there’s a pride I get when I see what my gift helps shape. When I walk across Cornell’s campus, iI think about if it weren’t for my donation, half of that bush wouldn’t be there. There’s a pride, even in a small gift.
There’s a proverb that the highest level of charity you can give someone is to teach a man to fish. How are you helping foster opportunities like that?:
On the government side, we’re working hard trying to attack this problem from three levels – grassroots, in the middle and at the high end. We’re using every way to encourage industry, the big players to come into the Ithaca area. It means giving tax incentives to them to grow jobs. We’re also encouraging entrepreneurship, for those who have always wanted to start a business, they are receiving tax assistance. And at the grassroots, we’re providing incentives with job training program towards growing industries like the hospitality market to match the boom in hotels and restaurants in Ithaca. job training paired with community 18 and 30 have barriers to success, rely on food pantry. How I spend my professional life is filling the cracks in the structure that cause poverty and providing where I can people an opportunity to build better lives for themselves and their families. When I can contribute to those places that catch those who fall, I’m glad to do that.
Can you share with us a story about how you’ve seen the community come together for philanthropic purposes?
In the wake of a tragic major accident this summer where you had a young woman whose life was taken, the community came together. Amanda Bush, who died had a very young daughter and a family who didn’t know how to pick up the pieces. A community that was grieving for Amanda and sense of a security that was lost turned this tragedy into kindness. This accident took part in the heart of our downtown on a corner that could have been anyone of us standing there.
What I found is that people were looking for a way to process their feelings, the sadness and anger and they did so in a remarkable way to help Amanda and her daughter. We set up a fund and within a few days time, the funeral expenses were covered and a Trust Fund was raised for her daughter. It’s an example of how the act of giving is important for not only the receiver, but for those who give.