15 June 2022

Canberra's 'little act of humanity' amounts to millions but local charities urge 'give where you live'

| Claire Fenwicke
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Two pairs of hands text on phones next to a cardboard box labelled `Donations'.

Canberrans donated $10.8 million to the Australian Red Cross between 1 January, 2019 and 30 April, 2022. Photo: File.

For Penny* from Canberra’s inner north, donating to a cause comes down to the cost of a coffee each month.

“I feel good knowing I can help someone else rather than being selfish and having that extra latte,” she said.

She’s one of many Canberrans who have helped push donations for the Australian Red Cross to $10.8 million since the start of 2019.

Penny began donating about 25 years ago.

“I was out in the city for lunch and a young man approached me asking if I was interested in donating to the Red Cross,” she said.

“I didn’t want to be rude and say `no’ straight up, so I said I’ll make you a deal. I’ll donate if you can tell me the difference between the Australian Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross. And he did, so here I am.”

She’s arranged her donations so a small amount is sent to the charity each month, calling it her “little act of humanity”.

“It’s not pocket change when you add it up over a year, but it is pocket change when you do it each month,” Penny said.

“We’re a crazy country. If it’s not floods it’s drought, if it’s not drought it’s fires. On top of that we have homelessness and all sorts of things. Australian Red Cross can do so much more than I can as an individual.”

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Recent data from the Australian Red Cross showed women gave more money and donated twice as often as men.

The charity’s state and territories operations director Poppy Brown said people in low-income areas gave as much as those in wealthy communities and more than those in middle-income areas (as a percentage of their area’s median income).

Australian Red Cross figures showed people in low- and high-income areas gave 0.13 per cent of their area’s median incomes while those in middle-income areas gave 0.11 per cent.

Ms Brown pointed out the trend continued to grow.

“In the first four months of 2022, a period marked by significant disasters – with unprecedented floods in Queensland and NSW and multiple international crises – women and those in low-income areas continue to show their generosity [nationally], already donating $21 million to Red Cross,” she said.

“Every donation makes a difference, supporting our work to help people in urgent need 365 days a year.”

The ACT is the most generous Australian Red Cross donor state or territory per capita, with donations amounting to $25.12 per person. It also boasts the highest percentage of people giving to the charity (5.14 per cent of the population).

The top three most generous postcodes in the Territory are 2602, 2615 and 2611.

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Community foundation Hands Across Canberra has asked the ACT to redirect its giving nature to local causes.

CEO Peter Gordon said Canberrans tended to give to national and international causes rather than helping those in need at home.

“We’re very socially aware people, but about 85 per cent of charity donations from Canberrans leave the Territory,” he said.

“We have as much need as any other city, but many people in Canberra think everyone in Canberra is fine.

“We’ll have 2000 people homeless tonight, many of them women. But you won’t see them because it’s too dangerous to be obviously homeless.”

Mr Gordon said donations went up during the pandemic, particularly from those on lower incomes. While it hasn’t been proven, he has an idea about why.

“My theory is because the government increased welfare payments, poorer people were able to donate more,” he said.

“When the welfare payments went back down, we also saw donations go back to previous levels.

“I think people on lower incomes have higher empathy for people who are struggling. So when they had a bit of a leg up, they wanted to share that and do something to help; it’s a beautiful thing.”

Mr Gordon said Hands Across Canberra’s ‘End of Financial Year’ appeal was one way ACT residents could make sure their donations helped people closer to home.

“Canberrans are incredibly generous, but we need to be more generous at home. Think about how kind Canberra has been to you and how you can be kind to it, think about the need here,” he said.

“Give where you live.”

* last name withheld

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Charities HUH! I’ve sent emails of offers of donation by email to some charities and have had no reply. Don”t you want my money?

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