By Vince Bzdek | Dec 19, 2020
As she has contemplated the wrecking ball of coronavirus this year, MacKenzie Scott recently wrote a blog post saying that Emily Dickinson’s poetry has been on her mind a lot.
Dickinson lived much of her life isolated in a single room, looking out on a cemetery.
But it wasn’t her verses about death or isolation that kept floating to mind for Scott, rather it was Dickinson’s writing on hope.
“’Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” the lines begin, “/ That perches in the soul / And sings the song without the words / And never stops — at all -”
With that uplifting vision in mind, Scott has now given away $4,158,500,000 to organizations helping bring hope to those most devastated by the virus. Her generosity includes a $20 million gift to Mile High United Way in Denver, and a $15 million gift to Goodwill of Colorado. Each of those two gifts is the largest in the more than 100-year history of either nonprofit.
“It would be easy for all the people who drew the long demographic straws in this crisis to hole up at home feeling a mix of gratitude and guilt, and wait for it to be over — but that’s not what’s happening,” said Scott, the novelist, philanthropist and ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. “The proliferation of community fridges, COVID relief funds, impromptu person-to-person Venmo gifts, viral debt relief campaigns and mutual aid initiatives has been swift and uplifting.”
After COVID hit, Scott asked a team of advisers to help her accelerate her plan to give away the bulk of her fortune.
“They took a data-driven approach to identifying organizations with strong leadership teams and results, with special attention to those operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital,” Scott wrote in a blog post on Medium.
Scott, of course, is hoping her giving paves the way for other “unsolicited and unexpected gifts.”
“Our hopes are fed by others,” she observed.
Good does beget more good, I’ve found. In Colorado, thousands of people have risen to the challenge presented by the virus, donating their federal relief checks, cooking meals for health care workers, or giving to charities rather than exchanging gifts this year.
Locally, scores of people in Colorado Springs are helping those hardest hit by donating at a record pace to the Empty Stocking Fund this year, even though most of the drive’s fundraising events have been canceled by COVID-19.
“For more than 36 years, now, our community has been coming together through the Empty Stocking Fund, to meet individuals and families in moments of crisis or need,” said Deb Mahan, who oversees the campaign for the El Pomar Foundation and Gazette Charities. “During this unprecedented crisis, the 20 health and human service agencies supported by the Empty Stocking Fund are the very organizations at the front lines of COVID response. They are collectively meeting the most urgent needs of those hit hardest — rent/housing assistance, food insecurity, mental health resources, safety net health clinics, veteran services and support.”
I’m taking the Empty Stocking idea kind of literally this year, and making my kids stuff stockings full of goodies for the folks in line down at Marion House on Christmas Eve.
You can help, too, by donating your time or resources to one of the charities identified by the Empty Stocking Fund as helping those most in need this year. Here’s the Empty Stocking Fund website if you need a little help helping.
“We are all in this together and now, more than ever, you can help these nonprofits have a profound impact,” says Mahan.
My family and I just watched a goofy, good-hearted Christmas movie that captures the contagious effect of goodwill, which may be the very essence of what Christmas season is all about, and the reason many of us think of it as the best time of year.
After losing someone very important to her, the lead character in “The Last Christmas” finds a bit of salvation for her dissolute life by volunteering in a homeless shelter where the person she lost used to volunteer. By the end of the movie, she ends up staging a rousing Christmas show right in the shelter, with a choir of homeless singers raising their voices to the rafters.
“We are so lucky to be alive,” says the young heart surgery survivor, on stage at the end as she leads the singing, costumed happily in an elf costume covered with Christmas lights. “We are so lucky to help each other in little ways and big ways. The reason we are so lucky is because … helping each other is, in fact, what makes us happy.”
After giving away $4 billion, MacKenzie had the selfsame insight about how giving hope lifts the giver, too. “The hope you feed with your gift is likely to feed your own,” she said.
Spreading hope is like spreading the wings we need to lift ourselves out of this dark time.
It’s the thing with feathers, after all.