Keep the holiday spirit all year long | Don Brunell

During the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to giving — not just giving gifts but donating our time and money to charities and community programs.

During the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to giving — not just giving gifts but donating our time and money to charities and community programs.

This time of year, we’re reminded that, with all our frailties, we human beings are a pretty generous lot. According to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, 88 percent of American households donate to charity. In 2012, Americans donated more than $316 billion to nonprofit organizations.

As it turns out, philanthropy is as old as civilization itself.

One of the earliest recorded donations was in 375 B.C. when Plato willed his house to his nephew with instructions that the proceeds be used to support students and faculty at the academy he founded.

In America, the controversial and hard-charging industry titans who came to power in the 19th century began a tradition of philanthropy that created some of our nation’s most prestigious institutions.

For example, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie built 2,800 free public libraries around the world, and many of America’s greatest universities and art institutions were founded by industrialists: Carnegie-Mellon University, Duke University, the University of Chicago, Rockefeller University, Stanford University, the Getty Museum, the Guggenheim and the Smithsonian.

These industrialists created charitable foundations that continue to this day. In all, U.S. foundations and corporations donated almost $64 billion to charitable causes in 2012.

While banks are a target of much criticism today, it is important to point out that in 2012 JPMorgan Chase and its Foundation gave more than $190 million to thousands of nonprofit organizations across 42 states, the District of Columbia, and 37 countries around the world. More than 43,000 employees provided 468,000 hours of volunteer service in local communities around the globe.

One of today’s best-known foundations is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Founded with earnings from Microsoft — and generously supported by business mogul Warren Buffet — the foundation’s $38 billion endowment applies business principles and discipline to nonprofit initiatives here and around the globe in health care, economic development and education.

Regionally, the Fred Meyer Fund has awarded more than $15 million in grants since 1997 in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington to help fight hunger, educate our children and help our military veterans.

Washington companies share a strong commitment to community service.

The Boeing Company donated almost $53 million to nonprofits in our state in 2012. The managers and employees of United Parcel Service, founded in Seattle in 1907, have donated a record $1 billion to United Way over the last 30 years.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines gave $3.3 million to Washington communities in 2012, and the company just announced it would donate 100,000 free travel miles to Seattle Children’s Hospital for every touchdown pass thrown by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson the remainder of this season.

As generous as our large companies are, the vast majority of charity in America — and here in Washington — is quietly donated by small businesses and individuals who never make the headlines.

For example, for the last 15 years, Ed and David VanderPol, who own Oak Harbor Freight, have volunteered vacant space in their empty trucks traveling across California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington to transport a million pounds of surplus produce a year for donation to needy people.

And Sterling Bank in Spokane provides each of its employees with 12 hours of paid time off a year to use volunteering in their local community. In 2012, Sterling employees donated 53,000 hours of time to nearly 2,000 nonprofit organizations.

These volunteers deserve our thanks and support. Their efforts are a reminder that all of us, regardless of income or status, can contribute to our communities in some way — and, in doing so, we make ourselves and our communities better.

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