TWH –This is the time of year when, in advance of the nearly-inevitable “real witch” stories that are written in October, many Pagans try to shape the public image of their religions by participating in local Pagan Pride Day events. While not all of these are affiliated with the Pagan Pride Project, that organization’s model is why the bulk of PPD celebrations take place in late summer or early autumn. Sanctioned events are expected to include press releases inviting media coverage, public rituals, and fund raising for a charitable cause.
According to the Pagan Pride Project website, the rationale for a charitable component is:
A food drive or other charitable activity, to share our abundant harvest with others in need, and to make a clear statement to those who have misconceptions about Paganism. We know that our ethics, based on concern for ecology, personal responsibility, and individual freedom, mean that we feel strongly called to actions of social responsibility. It is important for us to highlight our similarity to other religions in that regard.
The Wild Hunt contacted the organizers of a number of Pagan pride events to find out how they selected causes for which to raise money.
Food for thought
As these events mostly take place during the harvest season, which culminates with the secular Thanksgiving in countries such as the U.S. and Canada, food drives are the most common type of charity effort undertaken at the events surveyed. Some organizers expressed that they believed it to be a PPP requirement. A few events include raising funds in addition to or instead of a food drive. However, asking for canned goods is common enough that any amount collected is tracked by the organization, along with numbers of attendees.
Some themes did emerge regarding how specific charities were selected. Serving people local to the event was frequently cited as a concern, as well as whether or not any kind of religious test was required either for the receipt of donations or other benefits.In Frederick, Maryland, The Foodbank Program was selected “because we wanted to focus our charitable efforts on our own local community,” Frederick PPD organizers wrote, and because “they not only help those who are in truly desperate straits, but also moderate-income families who find themselves in a sudden financial bind.” The Foodbank Program serves some 600-800 families monthly.
Local was an important factor in selecting the Community Cares Food Bank for the Southeastern Massachusetts PPD, but organizers had another criterion. This particular food bank doesn’t “require attending their church services to receive help.”
SOME is an interfaith, community-based organization that exists to help the poor and homeless of our nation’s capital. They meet the immediate daily needs of the people they serve with food, clothing, and health care. They aim to help break the cycle of homelessness by offering services, such as affordable housing, job training, addiction treatment, and counseling, to the poor, the elderly and individuals with mental illness.
New York City Pagans are, according to PPD organizers, quite generous. Like those in the District of Columbia, serving the homeless population is part of the agenda. “During our event, attendees have donated food by the truckload, out of their own hearts. With the food they receive, City Harvest services not only the homeless, but many local food programs as well. We selected them because by helping people who need it most, they’ve given us an opportunity to share more of ourselves with this amazing city we call home.”
While there is a food drive held at PPD in Athens, Georgia, a local food pantry doesn’t get the proceeds; they go to Project Safe, in part because there was no religious affiliation. Organizer Gwen explained:
Our little tribe essentially picked up the flag after the organizers of the first Pride Day in town backed out: it was quite a rush that year and they were the first and only secular charity I could turn up in the area. Most of the general food charities around here are actually coordinated through a Christian group and kind of big central collection and distribution so far as I could tell at the time. (Sometimes with Christian charities you can’t donate unless you hide that it comes from Pagans.)
I’ve worked with and around various unofficial domestic battery shelters in my time, so I thought Project Safe might just be somewhere our little food drive might actually be of meaningful help, rather than a drop in a bigger bucket. (We’re not a big event.) There was no disagreement regarding their worthiness, and there we are. That was in 2008 or 2009, and, well, that’s our charity ever since. Any other charitable ventures are anonymous.
The York, Pennsylvania PPD event benefits a cancer support organization, and collections reportedly spill over beyond the actual Pagan Pride Day. “We have chosen H.O.P.E. (Help for Oncology Patients and Emotional Support), located in New Freedom as our designated recipient,” organizers advised. “Past years, we only collected at the actual event. This year, we would like to be able to give a much more significant amount of food to H.O.P.E. We will be placing empty decorated boxes to local businesses from Aug. 15 until Sept. 15.” They have set a goal of 1,000 pounds.
Robert Schreiwer confirmed that Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day also directs food donations to a specialty organization. In this case, it is Vivian’s Cupboard, which “aims to help clients maintain optimal health and improve the efficacy of HIV treatment regimens by providing them with a consistent, nutritious supply of food.”While religious ties can be a barrier in some areas, the Cleveland pride celebration benefits the Southeast Clergy Hunger Center. Organizer Matthew said it is “because they feed the local hungry and provide Meals on Wheels to local shut-ins. Similarly, PPD organizers in Springfield, Missouri, selected a Christian charity, Crossline Food Pantry, after donations were rejected by others. Matthew said:
With thousands of people experiencing a lack of safe and nutritional food we felt that, while it is a charity run by the Counsel of the Churches of the Ozarks, it includes services for people in the entire county (meeting certain guidelines of course) and we could do the most good for the most people through this organization. In addition, they were more than happy to work with Pagan Pride Day here in Springfield; we experienced the disappointment of several food pantries that turned us away when they discovered who we were.
According to organizer Alice Liddell, Crosslines uses an unusual approach, offering “a ‘client choice’ model that is different from other food pantries in the area. Each person or family is partnered with a volunteer to take them through their grocery store style pantry. Each client can select items that better fit their family’s tastes and dietary restrictions. They also have a mobile food distribution method and a holiday center for those in need.”
Beyond the food drive
While food donations dominate, many Pagan Pride Day events include support for other, non-food charities, either alongside or occasionally instead of a food bank or pantry. The bulk of those named by organizers benefited animals. In Connecticut and Vermont, that means the Humane Society. In Philadelphia, cats are cared for, and organizer Robert Schweirer recounted why:
Sacramento Pagan Pride Day. In a statement, pride project president Shawn Carlino said, “Sacramento Pagan Pride represents a community of people who believe the care and compassion for all animals should be part of our human experience. . . . Many of us have pets who are rescued dogs and cats. Some of our community have even rescued poultry! Life is sacred and by having knowledge of the good works of the Front Street Animal Shelter of course we would see how it would be a good fit to be a sponsor.”
Forgotten Cats provides humane trap, neuter, and release services and also provides affordable health services for cats throughout the region. We chose them because of their work. Many veterinarians donate their time to the service, and I really admire that. Plus, in the past, I have personally used their services when a mother cat gave birth to six kittens on my front porch on Mother’s Day shortly after I had made an offering to Freya.
Other events double down on supporting the homeless by raising funds as well as food for their care. That includes a warm-clothing drive in central New York and Denver. In Chicago, a suicide-prevention service is on the list.
All told, Pagans use the pride season to share in abundance and prosperity, as well as to remind people, who belong to more mainstream faiths, that charity is a value we all can share.