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Ethos of giving alive in Petaluma

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“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

—Coretta Scott King

Shortly after taking the reins as publisher of the Argus-Courier 20 years ago this month, I sat down with two community leaders to learn more about the city’s history, politics and culture. The biggest takeaway, that “Petaluma takes care of its own,” has remained true to this day. Yet Petalumans do far more than take care of those in need here in town.

Last month, as the Kincade fire destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and businesses across 120 square miles in northern Sonoma County, Petalumans opened their doors to a few thousand evacuees. As they had done in 2017 during the devastating Tubbs and Nuns fires, Petaluma residents and business owners showed immense generosity to help their county neighbors, providing food, clothing, crisis support and overnight accommodations to people who were unsure if they would even have a home to go back to.

Petaluma’s well-documented generosity and compassion is, after all, one of this community’s key virtues. That so many residents donate, volunteer and pitch in to help those in need is a longstanding tradition here, begun several generations back. We all enjoy a stronger community as a result.

One of the first things many newcomers learn upon arriving here is that Petaluma has a disproportionately large cadre of nonprofit organizations for a city of its size, with thousands of hard-working volunteers stepping up to make life better for seniors, youth, homeless and indigent residents who often, despite our community’s relative affluence, go to bed hungry at night. To help such people, nonprofit groups hold fundraisers nearly every week at a restaurant, theater or outdoor venue.

Petalumans are comfortable opening their wallets to donate to local charities such as the Petaluma Peoples Services Center, Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), Boys and Girls Club, Petaluma Educational Foundation, Mentor Me, Rebuilding Together, PEP Housing, Petaluma Christmas Cheer, the Carousel Fund and many more. Petaluma service clubs, including Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis, consistently raise money for dozens of good causes.

It’s no secret that the stronger our local economy, the more money is generated to support the Petaluma charities that help people in need. Many small business owners, managers and employees give of their time and treasure to support local non-profits. This year, the planned power outages hit Sonoma County’s small businesses especially hard, including many here in Petaluma who were forced to shut their doors when the electricity went out. More than ever, local business could use your increased patronage this holiday season.

Beyond that, as you begin planning your holiday gift-giving, consider how shopping locally can help your community and its nonprofit organizations stay strong.

Studies show that Amazon, the big online retailer, is displacing sales at brick-and-mortar stores, including many here in Petaluma, while causing job losses and reduced sales tax revenue in the process. Since sales tax revenue is the primary funding source for city services like police and fire, parks, street maintenance and emergency disaster response, the more people shop locally the more money is available to support those services.

Each dollar you spend at an independent business returns three times more money to the local economy than one spent at a chain store, and almost 50 times more than buying from an online mega-retailer like Amazon.

Moreover, your investment is returned in the form of local jobs and generous donations by Petaluma business owners who support those important non-profit and community organizations. Have you ever heard of Amazon sponsoring a Petaluma Little League team?

According to the American Independent Business Alliance, community-serving businesses typically consume less land, carry more locally-made products and create less traffic and air pollution. Also, those ubiquitous unrecyclable Styrofoam packaging peanuts in Amazon shipments are delightfully absent when purchasing gifts from Petaluma merchants.

Petaluma has a myriad of different shops offering a wide variety of products that are suitable for gift giving including apparel, musical instruments, books, art, home and garden items and much more. Gift certificates for dinner at a local restaurant, or spa treatment or theater event are always appreciated. So are delicious cheeses or wines made by a Petaluma dairy or winery, artwork created by a local artist or a craft item made by the artisan that lives down the street.

Yes, Petaluma takes care of its own. And that can be achieved with a compassionate commitment to volunteer work or with generous donations to local non-profits. Some strategic holiday shopping can also help the cause.

(John Burns is former publisher of the Petaluma Argus-Courier. He can be reached at john.burns@arguscourier.com.)

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