Give Local First


November 20, 2008
West Marin Citizen


Browse in West Marin

There are advantages to being unincorporated, and therefore without local government, as we are out here in West Marin. We are spared the contentiousness of local politics. We exist somewhat under the radar, when it comes to rules and regulations (until a disgruntled neighbor picks up the phone.)

We can address problems ourselves, in our own way. A teeming and inventive self-help culture has grown up to fill the void.

But there are disadvantages too. One is that we lack a forum and focus for community issues. Another is that much of the essential work that goes on here becomes almost invisible – out of sight and therefore out of mind. This is a particular problem at times like this, when outside funding is scarce and local contributors are feeling the pinch as well.

We’ll cut to the chase. Local nonprofits need our help, now more than ever. Demands on them are increasing, at the very time that resources are running thin. Demand for donated food has tripled, for example, while the Marin Community Foundation has cut back funding in West Marin and elsewhere.

Many of us are trying to “buy local,” to the extent we can. That’s to support our local merchants and producers, and the people who work for them, and the vitality of our local main street, and of our community generally. Now we need to Give Local too, for the same reasons – and more.

Studies suggest that when we shop at local businesses, some two thirds of the money stays here in our community. When we make the trip to Trader Joe’s or Target, by contrast, our money goes out with us. With local non-profits the “multiplier” as economists call it is even greater, because a greater percentage of the total goes to salaries for local workers. Not much leaks out for inventory and the like.

But the main reason to give local is the work itself. We live in something of a cocoon out here – the stunning landscape, the low-key civility, the relative absence of social tensions. Visitors read the Sheriff’s Calls in The Citizen and think this must be heaven. That’s what you call a problem – cows in the road?

It’s easy to forget that there are people living on the edge – here – especially with the current economic woes and escalating rents. West Marin has family crises, kids in difficult settings – all of it. We tend to forget too the fragility of this special place, and how much work it has taken – and will continue to take – to keep it that way, and to keep our civic culture alive and growing.

It would not be fair to name particular groups because of the many we would leave out. But it’s hard to think of a function important to this community that does not have a nonprofit behind it.

* A community center that provides educational programs for young and old and cultural events for the entire community.

* A preschool that serves all regardless of financial means, and a medical clinic that does the same.

* A radio station that provides a venue for local culture and discussion, and an information hub during emergencies.

* Support groups for our libraries and schools.

* Advocates for ecology, organic farming, community place making and resource sharing.

* Direct help for people in need.

The list goes on and on. Visitors come for the scenery. But for those of us who live here, the social ecology is at least equally important. There is no shortage of worthy causes in the world today. Judging from the recycling barrels at the Post Office, people here give generously to them.

As things get tight, we have a suggestion: Let’s give local first. If we can’t walk our civic talk in our own community then we can’t do it anywhere. Outside funding is becoming scarce, from foundations and government alike. Let’s dig down deeper and pick up the slack. Let’s make our checks a little bigger rather than smaller. We won’t regret it.