Season of Sharing raises $3.67 million from community to help neighbors in crisis

Categories: Stories of Impact, COMMUNITY CARE: Placemaking: Housing, Transportation & Economic Support, COMMUNITY CARE: Preventing Homelessness, Season of Sharing, Community Care,

After a year in which a hurricane piled another crisis atop many already weighing upon working families, local residents came through once more to help their neighbors – raising more than $3.67 million for Season of Sharing.

This season’s total – announced this week – equates to one of the highest fundraising records in Season of Sharing’s nearly 23-year history.

The funds assist residents of Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties who are in a temporary financial bind with aid that can be applied to housing, utilities, childcare and transportation emergencies.

In that way, Season of Sharing – established in 2000 by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – has helped residents through the pandemic, family illnesses, natural disasters and the housing crisis.

This past year was no exception following Hurricane Ian, when Season of Sharing became a lifeline for many households that fell between the cracks of other programs.

“Once again, the generous outpouring of support from our community has been heartening and a testimony to the trust people have in this safety net, and the belief that each person — no matter their means — can help their neighbors at critical moments,” says Roxie Jerde, President and CEO of the Community Foundation.

“Season of Sharing is a great example of how much we can accomplish when we work together,” she added.

While this year’s fundraising totals fell slightly below last year’s record-breaking amount of more than $4.4 million, they came at a time when donors and community members were stepping forward in many ways to help with hurricane relief.

That included donating almost $5 million to date to the Community Foundation’s long-term Suncoast Disaster Recovery Fund – $1.25 million of which came from The Patterson Foundation.

“It is inspiring and affirming that people care about people,” Debra Jacobs, Patterson’s president and CEO, said of the large sums of money the community poured into both funds over the last several months.

A long-time philanthropic partner of Season of Sharing, The Patterson Foundation commits each year to match every $500,000 raised by the community with $100,000 of its own, with no cap.

This year that meant $600,000 of Season of Sharing’s total came from Patterson.

“Every size matters and counts,” Jacobs said of Season of Sharing donations, most of which are made up of less than $100 each.

“The generosity gene is alive and vibrant in our region,” Jacobs said.

Givers, she added, did not lose sight of Season of Sharing’s role in the community, even as other funds focused on long-term hurricane recovery.

“Season of Sharing deals with the trauma of today,” Jacobs said.

And those everyday struggles have been especially challenging the past year, said Chris Russi, community fiscal agent and liaison at The Glasser/Schoenbaum Human Services Center.

Residents strove to remain resilient, even as storm damage exacerbated a dire shortage in affordable housing.

Season of Sharing – administered locally and distributed through a network of human service agencies – proved once again to be flexible and adaptive to community needs. In many cases, its assistance kept families from the brink of homelessness as they dealt with denials or delays from insurance companies and FEMA.

“It’s truly amazing how this concept and process could mean so much to so many for so long and in such a relevant way,” Russi said of Season of Sharing. “I’m so grateful it is there to help sustain and improve conditions where possible.”

For case managers on the front lines, the compounding crises confronting families and individuals over the last few years are not going away anytime soon. Neither, they say, is the need for Season of Sharing.

Ola Medrzycki, Friendship at Home Manager for the Senior Friendship Centers, has repeatedly tapped the fund for retirees on fixed incomes. Many have been affected by unexpected rent hikes in the hundreds of dollars each month.

But increasingly, in many cases, there is nowhere affordable in the area for them to live. Some retirees have left the Sarasota region. Others are searching for roommates, she added.

“We cannot even provide information to the clients on where they can go,” Medrzycki said.

For Susan Schoengold, coordinator of Jewish Financial Assistance and Jewish Care Management at JFCS of the Suncoast, many of the people calling for help never had to do so before.

In addition to feeling shame, they grapple with toxic stress. Already treading water amid high housing, childcare, food and fuel costs, a dental emergency or broken-down car can leave them drowning.

Season of Sharing’s temporary relief, she said, does far more than get them back on their feet. It impacts their mental health, getting them out of mere survival mode and freeing head space to focus on long-term plans, like a job search or going back to school.

“They can sleep at night,” Schoengold said. “And that, to me, is huge.”


See this story, as it originally appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Feb. 12, 2023, here.

Photo by Mike Lang, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.