Time to Celebrate the Season Photo by Carlos Avila Gonzalez

Time to Celebrate the Season

Winter 2011 Letter from the President

Fund president Ira Hirschfield reflects on the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund’s role as a Bay Area institution, now in its 25th year.

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Every year, 5,000 individuals and families in the San Francisco Bay Area get help from the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund so they can weather unexpected crises. Over the last quarter century, the fundraising campaign has become a tradition. At the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the holidays would not be the same without it. And the response from the community—with donations at $78 million and counting—has been a remarkable testament to the Bay Area’s generosity.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since Walter A. Haas, Jr., the late co-founder of the Haas, Jr. Fund, approached the San Francisco Chronicle to propose a fairly simple idea. The New York Times had for many years been running a holiday-season fundraising campaign, and he suggested that the Bay Area needed a charitable fund of its own to help individuals and families in crisis. Who better to take this on, he said, than the San Francisco Chronicle?

Growing the Season of Sharing Fund

None of us could have imagined back then that the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund would grow into the largest newspaper campaign of its kind in the country – raising more money last year than the venerable New York Times. And it is a tribute to past and present leaders at the Chronicle—including most recently Publisher Frank Vega, Editor Ward Bushee and Chief Financial Officer Suzy Cain— that the Season of Sharing Fund has become a community institution with deep roots across the region. At a time when newspapers around the country have been struggling to adapt to a constantly evolving media environment, the Chronicle has continued to dedicate its staff, reporters, photographers and hundreds of column inches in the paper to publicize the campaign, write stories about the people it helps, and ask the community for its support.

Of course, the growth of the Season of Sharing Fund also is an extraordinary tribute to the people of the Bay Area. Last year alone, the Fund raised a record $6.4 million from thousands of people who made contributions of all sizes. Using this money, the Season of Sharing Fund is able to help people stay in their homes and feed their families. In fact, the Season of Sharing Fund enables all nine Bay Area food banks to provide 1.5 million meals to people who might otherwise go hungry.

Over the years, more than 100,000 individuals and families have benefited in very important ways from the money that the Season of Sharing Fund has raised. But equally important is something else that the annual campaign has raised, and that is this community’s awareness and understanding of the real-life challenges that confront so many of our neighbors as they deal with the consequences of lost jobs, illness and other unforeseen challenges in their lives.

Through the newspaper and online at sfgate.com, we are introduced to people we can easily imagine running into in the course of our daily lives. These are our neighbors whose lives have temporarily been thrown off course, and the Season of Sharing Fund provides the support they need to get back on track.

Walter was a tireless supporter of the Season of Sharing Fund from the very beginning until he died in 1995. His wife, Evelyn, joined him every year in raising funds for the campaign, and she became its strongest advocate and ambassador in the years after Walter’s death. Today, in the wake of Evelyn’s passing in 2010, their children—Betsy Eisenhardt, Walter J. Haas, and Robert D. Haas—carry on the family tradition of leading this annual community-wide appeal. And, as always, the Haas, Jr. Fund joins with the San Francisco Chronicle each year in covering the administrative costs of Season of Sharing, so you know that 100 percent of your contribution is going to people and families in need.

How You Can Help

In its 25th anniversary year, we have much cause to celebrate. By enabling thousands of Bay Area residents to channel their generosity, empathy and compassion to helping others, the campaign has shown all of us how the simple act of giving can change people’s lives. But at the same time we have reason for profound concern: there are more people in the Bay Area struggling to make ends meet than at any other time in the last 25 years. With so many of our neighbors impacted by this relentless economy, the Season of Sharing Fund continues to make an important difference.

If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to visit the Season of Sharing website to meet donors and recipients in a series of video profiles, and to learn more about how you can support this year’s campaign. Many thanks for your part in the campaign’s remarkable success … and best wishes to you and your family for a joyful holiday season.