SoS family © Kirsten Aguilar

Both Sides of Social Justice

Winter 2013 Letter from the President

Fund president Ira Hirschfield reflects on why the road to justice must also include emergency support for struggling families.

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In my role as president of an established family foundation, I am often approached for advice by generous and caring people who want to help make critical changes in the world through philanthropy. Thoughtfully, they say they want to invest in long-term, sustainable solutions to problems by being strategic in their giving.

These inspiring conversations remind me that sometimes people may feel like they need to make a tough choice when donating time and money. Should we support long-term changes to policies and systems that will advance important goals over time? Or should we invest in people who are struggling right now?

From my perspective, both challenges are worthy to take on. At the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, like at many other foundations and individual donors, we work to address both sides of this equation. We make substantial investments in long-term solutions to advance equality and opportunity at the local, state and national levels. In addition, in the tradition of “neighbors helping neighbors” instilled by our founders since our beginning 60 years ago, we are a longtime supporter of direct services for people with great needs.

We were reminded of how important these services continue to be when The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported on the work of Stanford University researchers who combined cost-of-living and income data to develop a more accurate picture of poverty in California. According to their calculations, the poverty rate in San Francisco is a shocking 23 percent. This is more than 10 percentage points higher than the official government poverty rate for our area.  

The devastating effects of poverty show up in the experiences of many worthy nonprofit organizations the Haas, Jr. Fund has been supporting—some over decades. Over these past few years, to help meet the increased demand for their services, we have increased our Critical Assistance grantmaking budget to $1 million annually. This includes lead support for the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund, which for 27 years has provided assistance to thousands of Bay Area residents facing unexpected crises.

We know these funds are making a significant difference in people’s lives. Season of Sharing has told countless stories of how people have been able to stay in their homes, keep food on the table or pay for urgently needed necessities they could not otherwise afford. In San Francisco, nonprofits we support provide about 1,100 emergency shelter beds, and an astounding 49,000 daily meals. In Alameda County, the organizations we fund provide 500 shelter beds and 9,000 daily meals to our hungry neighbors.

At this time of year when many of us are thinking about how we can help make this a better world, it is important to consider the full spectrum of opportunities to make good use of our time and money. By all means, we should be investing in long-term solutions to critical problems facing our communities and the world. But let’s also remember that long-term solutions won’t come fast enough for people who are facing crises in their lives right now.

For information on how you can support the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund, go to their website.