Summer Living, Summer Giving

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Last weekend I was shopping at the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund’s ninth annual "Super Saturday" designer garage sale in Water Mill, New York. Super Saturday was created in 1998 by Donna Karan in memory of Liz Tilberis, Harper's Bazaar's editor-in-chief and a legend in the world of fashion, who died of ovarian cancer at the age of 51. I knew Liz, and spoke at cancer fundraising events for her whenever she called. I greatly admired her work as the president of OCRF.

Because Super Saturday is underwritten by Donna Karan and sponsored by In Style magazine, every penny raised at the event can go to OCRF’s research programs. Imagine, carrying on Liz’s work by finding a great Carmen Marc Valvo sundress and a terrific Gucci cashmere sweater!

It's often called the Rolls Royce of garage sales! Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Vera Wang, and many other well-known designers set up booths in a large field in the Hamptons and sell their wares at a 70% discount. I filled my bags without guilt, because I was shopping for a just cause!

Super Saturday is just one of many thousands of fundraising events across the country in the summer. The Cancer Research Institute alone has offered a Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan; a Biking Cross-Country trip from Seattle, Washington, to Provincetown, Massachusetts; a Pittsburgh Rocks for Research concert, and the Fashion Art for a Cure in Melbourne, Florida. Add to that all the summer events to benefit The Red Cross, local police and firefighter organizations, AIDS research, children’s diabetes funds, the Make-A -Wish Foundation, community religion-based charities, Ronald McDonald House charities, and any of the more than six million legitimate charities in the United States, and you have a very busy fund-raising summer!

It seems to work like this: Add a charity’s name to a fun event, and people will come! Why? Not because a portion of what is spent is tax-deductible (though that is usually true) but because the impulse to help those in need is an innate human response. It's called altruism. We give in small ways every day to friends, family and neighbors. Sometimes we give in bigger ways to church and community and country. And every once in a while, after a disaster like Katrina or the tsunami, we give with all our heart to those we've never met.

We all give the most when we can identify with the people or cause receiving our money, so summer charity events that focus on an illness or disaster that has touched us or those we know and love get our greatest response. A marathon in memory of our neighbor, a walk for a friend’s mother who dies of breast cancer, a baseball game to raise money for a co-worker who has lost his home to a fire will get the entire county turning out. This is because we have a "village brain" that finds it hard to grasp huge tolls of anonymous loss, but naturally respond to losses and tragedies that have hit within our personal circle. When such disasters (big or small) hit, it changes how we see the world and shakes our sense of control. Giving helps us feel like we can have an effect again.

By the way, the need to believe that our contributions are making a difference is also vital to giving. So charities, take note — let us know how our donations are being used! In a post-9/11 world, more than ever before, we Americans understand what it's like to have your world change in seconds. The lesson? We have a great a need to give, and enjoy summer events even more when we know we’re helping others. So enjoy your charitable outings — I do!