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Commentary: In Loudoun, a mismatch between need and affluence

Meet Susan. She’s represents an average donor in Loudoun County. Susan might surprise you.

Susan is great. But, chances are, she leaves Loudoun County every day for work. (50 percent of Loudoun residents do.) That commute negatively affects Susan’s ties to her community with fewer business connections and probably less knowledge of her community.

Susan’s household income is $120,000 or more, just like a substantive majority of households in the county. The quality of life in Loudoun County, named one of the happiest counties in the U.S., is good.

Like most of her Loudoun neighbors, Susan donates about two percent of her discretionary income to charity. That’s one percent lesst han the average American donating three precent to charity.

As explained by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “A Mismatch Between Need and Affluence,” American communities with high standards of living often have low charitable giving rates.

American citizens who don’t come into immediate contact with “need” give less. That describes Loudoun County to a “T.” Loudoun needs aren’t in your face.

The last Point in Time study in Loudoun County tallied 113 homeless citizens. Susan has never knowingly seen a homeless person in her neighborhood.

The largest local food pantry, Loudoun Hunger Relief, serves 15,000 people. She can’t see hungry people on her commute.

Loudoun Cares, our local information and referral hotline, processed more than 4,000 referrals for people seeking help in rent and utility assistance, clothing, and more. But, those folks don’t call Susan.

Loudoun County Department of Family services provides supplemental day-care support for 315 low-income qualifying households, allowing parents to get into the workforce with a hand up, rather than a hand out. Sadly, last November, it had 500 families on a waiting list. Susan doesn’t think she knows those people.

And, let’s face it. Loudoun County’s poverty rate of 3.7 percent compared to that of the nation’s at 15.9 percent may seem a bit, well, anticlimactic. But, 3.7 percent is where we are. That’s where about 14,000 of our neighbors are.

Here’s what Susan and I like about the 3.7 percent.. We can move this needle. We can get ahead of this curve. With increased awareness and increased charitable giving, we can lower that number, if not keep it in check, even as Loudoun County continues to be one of the fastest growing counties in America. Loudoun County has the capable charities to meet the needs; let’s give them a full share of the resources to make it happen.

So, give it up, Loudoun County. Know your neighbors. Let’s get Loudoun County mean donors to spread that happiness factor, for all.

Amy Owen is the executive director of the Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties, a partner with the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers (WRAG) in a project to identify needs and gaps in Loudoun County and assemble a think-tank team to tackle them. The Community Foundation and WRAG are working jointly to undertake a community awareness campaign to elevate the face of need and spotlight volunteers in Loudoun County called the Faces of Loudoun.


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