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Care to CHIP today?” That’s a familiar refrain sung by our cashiers and recently I asked a sampling of customers if and why they CHIP... Some of them said:

“I used to think it was just an ambiguous list of places, but then I needed Tenant Resources desperately once; now I CHIP more regularly,” said Andy.

Jennifer, a member for two years answered this way: “Oh yeah, CHIP is a way for us to give without having to go through all the research. It’s easy!”

“Yes I do CHIP—someday I’ll probably need it,”laughed Johanna, a ten-year member. “Seriously though, it’s a good program; everybody should do it.”

Patrick, a member for four years, said, “I always add it on. It’s a good cause.”

Susan said that her family contributes “sometimes, but not always.”

They moved out of Madison not long ago, but she feels that “...not living here doesn’t have a lot to do with it for us.”

“Sure, I CHIP to help others in need,” said Steve.

On the days I was asking my questions, I could not find anyone who never CHIPs at the register!

Reasons to CHIP

I personally CHIP for a lot of reasons: I know how scary it can be if you don’t have health insurance, so I CHIP to support ABC for Health and Citizen Action of Wisconsin in their work to make good health care available to everyone. I watch as a neighbor disappears into the shadow-world of dementia and leaves his family behind, so I CHIP to help fund the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups in their quest to advocate for seniors. I appreciate and enjoy the great veggies grown at the community farm that is part of Troy Gardens. I admire the training Troy Farm provides to young, would-be, urban farmers through the Farm and Field Youth Training Program, so I choose to CHIP for the Madison Area Community Land Trust, the founding builders of the Troy Gardens affordable housing neighborhood that includes this great urban farm. I believe in an informed electorate so I am grateful that Community CHIP helps fund groups like the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, The League of Women Voters and The Progressive Magazine. Because I enjoy and benefit from a clean environment, clean water, parks and bike paths, I am happy that my CHIP donations are disbursed to groups like Clean Wisconsin, River Alliance of Wisconsin, the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and many other similar groups.

Do you CHIP?

By and large, Willy Street Co-op’s membership does CHIP—to the tune of more than $80,000 last year; the most recent numbers show that donations through October of this year amounted to $69,829, so we are on track to increase our donations this year. Do you know what Community CHIP is really all about or do you just go along when a cashier asks that inevitable question—“Would you care to CHIP today?” Most of us probably know that agreeing to CHIP means the cashier will add one percent of our purchase to the total of the receipt; that translates to just ten cents being added to a ten dollar purchase, for example. What all those dimes add up to though, is something much larger.

Behind the scenes

Willy Street Co-op has partnered with Community Shares of Wisconsin since 1978 to sponsor and fund Community CHIP; at this time we are the only organization that is helping CSW fund the CHIP program, though in the past there have been up to six other funding sites. Back in the early days CHIP was known as the “People’s Tax”—a name that fit those times of social awareness and upheaval. Our members donate generously to CHIP, and CSW takes on the administrative work. Community Shares of Wisconsin is the oldest social action fund in the United States. Like other social action funds, CSW is a non-profit umbrella group that helps raise money for its non-profit member agencies. Most of the donations CSW receives come through workplace giving. This is a payroll-deduction form of donating that manypeople choose in order to simplify their charitable giving. In addition to coordinating funding, Community Shares also offers networking, technological assistance and training for its members. Each of those member agencies has a seat on the CSW Board of Directorsand the groups receive what CSW’s Marketing and Communications Director, Moira Urich, calls an “equal share” allocation—that simply means that your CHIP donations are disbursed equally to each of the 54 member agencies. According to the CSW website (, 100 percent of donated monies go to member agencies. The member agencies range from nationally known groups like the Sierra Club and the ACLU to many smaller, local entities such as Wheels for Winners and the Tenant Resource Center. The CSW Board was scheduled to vote November 25th on possibly increasing the number of agencies in their group in the coming year.

Wheels for Winners

Every time I read something about Wheels for Winners (W4W), it makes me smile! This dedicated group of volunteers brings an enormous

amount of pleasure and self-esteem to dozens of children and teens in Madison every year by rehabbing donated bicycles that kids can earn through community service, special projects and even by reading books. According to Dar Ward, W4W accepts volunteer hours performed for a variety of community agencies and individuals. They regularly work with about 30 different sponsoring groups including schools, churches, community centers and libraries.

Wheels for Winners, is a CHIP member agency that truly operates on a shoestring with an annual budget of only about $12,000. Approximately 25 percent of their funds—$3,000 a year—comes from Community Shares of Wisconsin and some of that money comes from you and me through Community CHIP. The remainder of W4W’s funding comes from grants and donations and these sources tend to shrink considerably during tough economic times. Almost 75 percent of their budget is spent on rent, utilities take another chunk and the rest is used to buy the bike helmets and locks that each winner receives when they pick up their “new” bike. Each bike also carries a Madison bike license when a child rides it home. The bicycles themselves are donated to W4W in every imaginable condition of repair from individuals and organizations in the area; some are leftovers from the police bike auctions. Some bikes can only be cannibalized for parts before being recycled; others are in fairly good shape. Occasionally a specialized bike, like a racer, might be traded to another local agency, such as Dreamweavers. Volunteers at W4W recalled one memorable day when a young man came to pick out a bike he’d earned to replace one that had been stolen from him, only to find his original bike, complete with identifying scratches and scars among the available choices.

An all-volunteer staff operates Wheels for Winners—one woman has been with the group for 16 years! The day shift is currently made up of retirees and the evening crew contains people from a variety of age groups, including some students. In addition to repairing bikes, the volunteers have at times taught classes in bicycle repair and maintenance, including a special session for girls that was held at Centro Hispano last year. They have also hosted Wrench-a-thon in the past; this publicity event provided bike repair facilities and talents to the general public. Recently a group of eighth graders from Wright Middle School worked on a special project at W4W; volunteer mentors taught them how to repair bicycles and the students earned community service credit towards bikes of their own.

I visited Wheels for Winners on a breezy October afternoon and had the pleasure of watching Evelin, a nine-year old with a big, beautiful smile, pick up the sparkly pink bicycle she had worked for. Evelin is one of 143 kids to have earned bikes through the middle of October; like all the others she put in 15 hours of service. Her work included several lengthy, handwritten book reports and time spent meeting her neighbors and collecting food pantry donations from them—she had a heaping wagonload of non-perishables and monetary donations when she finished. The pride and happiness on Evelin’s face was mirrored in the faces of the volunteers on duty. As one volunteer at W4W told me, “Every child should have a bike,” and the child in me agrees.

Wheels for Winners has more bikes available than kids earning them right now; contact them at 249-2418 if you know someone that could use a bike. And if you’d like to volunteer time (or money) they would be happy to find a spot for you; no particular experience is necessary!

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger

Many of the CHIP agencies are involved in projects that affect people throughout the state of Wisconsin and much of their work reverberates in places all across the country.

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger (CSWAB) has been working since 1990 to clean up groundwater and rural wells in the area surrounding the Badger Army Ammunition Plant in Sauk County, just north of Madison. Someday they hope to see the area restored to the natural ecosystems that once thrived there—including prairie, meadows, forest, oak savannah and wetlands. CSWAB’s work has branched into assisting communities around the country that are dealing with pollution and health problems related to nearby military facilities.

Laura Olah, Executive Director of CSWAB told me, “We are currently working on ten major campaigns covering a wide range of issues including air quality (PCBs and dioxins), surface water quality (mercury), groundwater (explosives, perchlorate, and other military toxins), munitions workers health, environmental health of children (asbestos in soils and buildings), and sustainable agriculture (promoting managed grazing). In addition to our local work for the successful cleanup and sustainable conversion of the closing Badger Army Ammunition Plant, we work with communities across the U.S. that are threatened by military pollution in their environment. National efforts include supporting the federal Military Environmental Responsibility Act, which would require the military to adhere to state and federal environmental laws just like everyone else. Other campaigns will reduce the uncontrolled release of PCBs and other bio-accumulative toxins to the environment from military demilitarization activities.”

CSWAB receives some of its money from Community CHIP. According to Olah, “Individual donations account for about 26 percent of our income; between four and five percent of these gifts are made through Community Shares. The remainder of our funding is from foundations that support environmental justice work and in-kind donations by our volunteers.”

Community CHIP, through Community Shares of Wisconsin aids CSWAB and other member agencies with networking as well as finances, according to Olah: “Community Shares helps connect us with other organizations working for environmental and social justice—this collaboration helps strengthen our work here in rural Sauk County and with other communities across the U.S. that are threatened by military toxins in their environment. Community Shares recently helped organize a presentation to employees at the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation in Madison—this was a great opportunity to talk about our successes, especially those campaigns that have had a national impact on Department of Defense policy.”

Wisconsin Literacy, Inc.

Funding from Community Shares and CHIP also supports the work of Wisconsin Literacy, Inc. This group helps adults from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds to acquire, or improve, English language skills in reading and/or writing. According to the Wisconsin Literacy website, almost one million people residing in our state qualify for literacy or English as a Second Language services; only 75 percent of those people receive help. Having a good grasp of English means that a person can be more successful at work or in school; it means more fulfilling neighborhood and community interactions for people; it means healthier Wisconsinites when we can understand what health professionals are saying and read materials that are given to us.

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign won a three-year legal battle to prevent Wisconsin’s voter registration records from being privatized. This will mean easier access to records for state and local officials at less cost to taxpayers. WDC also acts as a political watchdog group, tracking campaign spending and working for reform of campaign finances.

Legal Action of Wisconsin

Legal Action of Wisconsin advocates for low-income and elderly people that might otherwise find it difficult to negotiate the costs of obtaining legal advice to help with civil cases. They work most closely with immediate needs—housing, food, health care and family safety, including protection from domestic abuse. Legal Action of Wisconsin provides free legal services to qualified clients and maintains several offices across the state, in order to be accessible to as many residents as possible.

Giving trends

The winter holiday season always seems to bring charitable fund-raising to a fever pitch; it is estimated that almost half of individual donors’ gifts are given between Thanksgiving and New Year’s each year. Part of that is likely attributable to the fact that most of us enjoy giving to others and the holidays are the most popular time to do that. Over 80 percent of American households regularly donate to charity—some may donate to gain a tax write-off, but 75 percent of people who give to charity are not able to take a tax deduction for their gifts. In 2007, for the first time, charitable giving in the U.S. exceeded $300 billion, with the year’s total coming in at $306.39 billion. More than 82 percent of that came from individuals, either directly or in the form of bequests. Corporations contributed about five percent of the total and foundations gave more than twelve percent. Though the reasons for giving tend to vary between age groups, the amounts given are very similar. Younger people tend to give to causes they believe will make the world a better place; seniors are more likely to give to groups funding services the government does not provide. When you donate through Community CHIP, you can easily spread a bit of giving throughout the year, and though those smaller amounts are relatively painless for most of us, they are important to the agencies that benefit from them.

A stronger, better community

“The CHIP donations made by Co-op shoppers really do make a difference to these groups. All the groups are committed, each in its own way, to building a stronger, better community, and that seems to be a goal of the Co-op as well. So first, we really appreciate the efforts of the staff to ask members about CHIP. And just as important, we appreciate the generosity of all of the Co-op members who say yes to CHIP,” said Urich.