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Mark Wiedmer

As national holidays go, Easter is often more difficult to tie to a particular charitable act we can embrace in its honor than Christmas or Thanksgiving.

With Christmas you can always fall back on the notion that it's more blessed to give than receive, and there are plenty of folks out there who desperately need our charitable gifts at all times of the year.

With Thanksgiving you're often providing food for people in need, which is a hugely important act of kindness.

Easter, however, once it's separated from egg hunts and chocolate bunnies, is more about the soul. About rebirth. About redemption. About forgiveness. About what's inside rather than outside.

But this past week, as a way to help kick off its yearlong celebration of its 100th season of professional football, the National Football League announced its "Huddle for 100" campaign in hopes of encouraging at least 1 million people to donate 100 minutes of their time to their favorite charities over the next 12 months.

The first of the NFL's four initiatives in this campaign will begin this week in Nashville, where the league's annual draft is taking place. Tabbed "Huddle Against Hunger," it will include the Tennessee Titans organization, draft prospects, community partners, players and fans participating in numerous activities, including a statewide food drive and food packing event.

"Giving back is part of the fabric of our league," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a prepared statement. "Through Huddle for 100, we hope to rally generations of fans, players, coaches and our 32 clubs to serve the communities that have supported and sustained us over our first 100 years."

It is certainly a noble endeavor. And finding time to donate 100 minutes of charity work over a 12-month period isn't exactly stretching anyone's limits of kindness.

Still, in an unfortunate era in which the government has seen fit to penalize charitable giving through the revised tax code, does this gesture also have the power to hurt local charities, even one as powerful as United Way, which has been aligned with the NFL for more than 40 years?

"We have 1,600 nonprofits locally," said Julia Wilhelm, content strategist for United Way of Greater Chattanooga. "It's such a saturated philanthropic market now. All these organizations do great work, but I think it's becoming harder and harder for some of them to keep going."

That said, Wilhelm also knows that the NFL, United Way or any other organization asking for the donation of time is often less burdensome on the individual than requesting a financial gift.

"Time is money, but time is also precious, and volunteering is a really special act that we can all be a part of," she said. "Just helping out with some landscaping or painting can save some of these organizations tens of thousands of dollars, and all it requires from an individual is a commitment of a couple of hours of time."

As this newspaper's superbly gifted columnist David Cook often points out, we live in two Chattanoogas. There's the one we all love to brag on, the shining city tucked between two mountains that can rightly boast of a thriving economy, wonderful tourist destinations, marvelous dining options and all of it surrounded by an outdoorsman's paradise.

Then there's the Chattanooga of which Cook shines a much-needed light on, one filled with homelessness, poverty, substandard schools and an increasingly bleak future for those of a certain color or background who fall between opportunity's cracks.

A hundred minutes of our time, $100 from our wallets or both won't erase those problems. But just cleaning up a neglected playground for 100 minutes one weekend morning or spending 100 minutes with a youth group at a community center one weekday afternoon would help.

As United Way Worldwide's Brian Gallagher noted in a 2018 article in the Harvard Business Review of his organization's changed focus: "Since I became CEO, I've said that our mission isn't to raise funds but to create social change."

Wilhelm knows that change is needed in all parts of the Scenic City, not just those successful, prosperous corners of it that run from the North Shore to the Southside business districts.

"We are, by far, not the worst in the South," she said. "We're doing OK in terms of core basic needs issues such as food and clothing and shelter. But there's a segment of our society that is clearly falling behind in terms of education, health and financial stability. That's especially true of certain parts of the African-American community, especially young males.

"What's the Frederick Douglass quote: 'It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men'? We need to focus on that here."

Yet she also sees much hope, beginning with the website "IhelpChattanooga.org," which connects volunteers with nonprofits. She singled out a group of volunteers that gets together one night a week to counsel those on the low end of the economic ladder about how to qualify for a home loan.

"The good news," Wilhelm said, "is that people give here. A lot. The passion exists. There is something for everybody."

And on this crisp Easter morning when the Christian world annually gathers to celebrate the ultimate sacrifice of one person for the good of everybody, giving 100 minutes of time to the charity of your choice over the next 12 months seems a fair enough gift for any of us to make.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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