"Chattanooga is a giving city," Kiwanis Club of Brainerd member Stacy Landrum declared this week. "It's the most giving city I've ever seen."
As a couple of hundred Chattanoogans pulled out their checkbooks in support of the Kiwanis club's "One Child at a Time" fundraising effort, Landrum's point was proven.
Each year, members of the Kiwanis Club of Brainerd raise thousands of dollars and volunteer hundreds of hours to support charities dedicated to helping children in the Chattanooga area. The "One Child at a Time" luncheon, which was held Tuesday, is a new event that the Kiwanis Club of Brainerd hopes will become a yearly fundraising effort.
Among the more than 25 organizations benefiting from the club's kindness and hard work are the Gateway to Opportunity Youth Foundation, Chambliss Center for Children, Siskin Children's Institute, Children's Advocacy Center and the Special Olympics. Additionally, Brainerd Kiwanis funds scholarships for UTC students and has adopted Woodmore Elementary, offering projects and activities that enrich students' learning beyond the classroom.
The caring, selfless and generous spirit evident among the members and supporters of the Kiwanis Club of Brainerd this week was pure and innate. It didn't require a government directive or coercion.
The same is true throughout the year for the members of the dozens of other service clubs that blanket our region with good work and kind deeds.
So why do thousands of men and women in our area gather together to help others, many of whom they will never meet? Because people - at least the overwhelming majority of them - are good. And Americans, in particular, have always taken care of one another.
When he toured the United States in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville excitedly noted that an attitude of neighbor helping neighbor was common throughout America. In Europe during that time, government was pushing out many private charities by creating massive public assistance organizations and levying stifling taxes to fund them. Rather than allowing individuals the right to choose which charities to support, governments forced their citizens to pay enormous sums to fund the charities that kings and queens and houses of parliament felt deserving.
Tocqueville was heartened by the altruistic spirit of Americans. He believed society is better served by private charities than government bureaucracies masquerading as charities. In the case of a voluntary charity, Tocqueville argued, a "moral tie" is established between the giver and the receiver. Government-forced, taxpayer-funded charity, however, removes morality from the transaction. Worse still, Toqueville found, taxpayers resent being forced to contribute and the recipient feels no gratitude for the assistance government gives.
Now, all these decades later, the charitable nature that Tocqueville admired about Americans is under attack. Like in Europe 180 years ago, federal, state and local governments in America extract tax dollars to fund the charities that they want, leaving us with less money in our pockets to support the organizations and individuals we believe in.
Are we better off with government performing functions that charities have historically provided? Given the often poor performance of government at taking care of those who need it most compared to the successes of friends, neighbors, churches and private charities, it's clear the answer is "no."
Some may claim that those less fortunate won't be taken care of without government interference. But the members of the Kiwanis Club of Brainerd - and every person in our area who gives time and money to help others - prove that simply isn't true.