A giving circle is growing in the South Hills and at its center is Jennifer McDowell.
“I’ve volunteered for a million different things over the years, but this is the thing that really sparked my imagination and made me want to do something different,” said McDowell of Mt. Lebanon.
A giving circle is a group of individuals who all give a set amount of money each year, and then that pooled money is given to charitable causes that members deem worthy. Usually the circle has a focus. In the case of McDowell’s Giving2Grow, that focus is to help alleviate childhood hunger and poor nutrition in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Giving2Grow began with McDowell and a few close friends.
“And then they talked to people, who talked to people, and it has really been very much a word of mouth,” McDowell said.
McDowell also attended meetings for local organizations, like book clubs and garden clubs, to drum up additional members. In the first year, a total of 50 women joined by donating $500. All of the $25,000 raised was given away that year. The next year it grew to 70 members, and now Giving2Grows is about to launch its third round of giving.
Maggie McDermott of Mt. Lebanon was among the first members and likes the idea that all of the money goes directly to chosen charities, and she likes that members go on site visits before they make the grants.
“Dollar for dollar, this is the best way to give,” McDermott said.
McDermott said she’s not really sure how much McDowell does behind the scenes to make Giving2Grow operate, because she never “toots her own horn.”
“I have said to you (McDowell) that you have reason to feel really good about this and be really proud of yourself… and I hope you know that,” McDermott said to McDowell while being interviewed in McDowell’s home.
“It’s impressive, it took two years before she started talking to us about the idea and it became a reality, there was a lot of ground work,” McDermott said.
McDowell said the circle has allowed members to better understand what is happening in the larger community.
“Realizing that there people within 10 miles of your house, whose kids are going to bed hungry at night. People don’t know that,” McDowell said. “I found a lot of people had never even been in these neighborhoods… so site visits are a tremendous opportunity.”
Among the organizations that have received grants from Giving2Grow is the Rainbow Kitchen’s children’s program, Grow Pittsburgh, Just Harvest, South Hills Interfaith Movement and the Pittsburgh Black Breastfeeding Circle.