The Northland Giving Circle allows residents a simple means to give back to their community. Each member of the circle donates $300 toward a $30,000 annual grant and then votes on the local charity they think can do the most with the money.
If you live in the Northland, you or someone you know may have benefitted from the Northland Giving Circle without even knowing it. The foundation, which generates a pool of donations totaling $30,000 mainly from area residents, awards that sum to one charitable organization in Clay or Platte County each year. That makes the 100 or so members of the Northland Giving Circle, who each contribute $300 toward the grant. These are mostly anonymous philanthropists whose aim is to help others by helping charities.
Rita Pearce is the executive director of one such charitable organization, the Northland Assistance Center, which was awarded the grant in 2012. Pearce’s center provides emergency funds to families in the area who are struggling to pay utility or rent bills. They also offer a food pantry and vouchers for medical, dental and clothing needs, among other things.
“A number of people give to us throughout the year, but a one-time gift like that is life-changing for a year,” Pearce said. “There’s not $30,000 grants out there without these giving circles. It made an enormous change for the people we help.”
After her organization won the grant, Pearce said, the center was able to assist about 200 more families with rent and utility bills, helping them to get their lights turned back on or to stave off eviction notices.
“That’s the thing I love about my job: I give other people’s money away to people who are very grateful,” Pearce said.
Linda Mitchell, an original founder of the Northland Giving Circle, recalled her enthusiasm for the Northland Assistance Center when visiting it back in 2012.
“They do an amazing job,” Mitchell said. “It’s just one woman (Pearce) and lots of volunteers, and they really have helped innocent people who can’t pay their bills.”
The Northland Giving Circle — associated with the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation along with similar giving circles in Liberty and Cass County, among others — has given away a total of $180,000 in the form of six grants since 2010. Linda Mitchell, along with five other women, founded the circle in March of 2009, just one year before awarding its first grant.
“It was kind of a nationwide initiative that got started, and we just decided that we wanted to do one like Liberty,” Mitchell said. “We invited people into homes and explained to them what we wanted to do … and we asked them to spread the word.”
Mitchell and her co-founders’ initiative paid off: the Northland Giving Circle has never failed to raise its annual $30,000 grant. Three of those grants have gone to assistance centers like the one Pearce maintains. Other winners are Shepherd’s Center, which works to empower older adults to live independently, and Feed Northland Kids, which provides backpacks full of food for young children to take home on weekends. Feed Northland Kids has won the grant twice, in 2010 and again this year.
One member of the Northland Giving Circle, Michael Short, is also the board president of Feed Northland Kids. He said the organization’s aim is to raise awareness for childhood hunger in the Northland while also providing a backpack’s worth of food.
“Everything we raise goes to helping to fund the 3,000 children who participate in the Harvesters Backpack Program,” Short said. “It’s an ongoing thing. Every year there’s more kids. I can remember very clearly going to one of the schools on a Friday … there was a little boy who came up to me — I would guess he was probably in the second grade — and he stuck out his hand and shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you mister for my food,’ and I thought, ‘That sums it up right there.’”
Short said it costs about $250 to feed one child throughout the year. The $30,000 grant that they won this year, then, will help Feed Northland Kids provide about 120 children with food in the coming year.
Feed Northland Kids is an organization that qualifies as serving those with basic needs. Mitchell said that members of the Northland Giving Circle are most often interested in voting for similar organizations that provide these necessities, such as food, shelter and clothing.
“(The members) could vote on doing something educationally or medically, but it’s always for basic needs. That’s what you really need the most,” she said.
Applications from local charities for the grant are accepted through mid-October, and a committee comprised of NGC members selects three finalists in early November. In January all members who made the $300 donation (plus a $2.50 administrative fee that goes toward pooling the money in a donor-directed fund through the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation) go online to vote on the three finalists. The winner is announced in February.
Short praised giving circles in general for their simplicity and small time commitment expected of the donors.
“The giving circles are a great way for people who care about their community to participate in supporting charitable causes without going to meetings, fundraisers or otherwise taking up a lot of time,” he said.