The University hosted a night of elegance and decadence last Wednesday evening, Apr. 29, for donors, university community members, and local journalists who gathered for the annual California Prize Dinner. The event honored the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund, sponsored by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.
In a transparent event tent outside of St. Ignatius on Welch Field, USF President Rev. Paul Fitzgerald, S.J. awarded Chronicle publisher Jeff Johnson with the California Prize for Service and the Common Good and a check for $10,000. Attendees dressed in formal banquet clothing and ate an elaborate three-course meal while slideshows, speeches, and video clips displayed the successes of the fund.
The California Prize for Service and the Common Good was founded at USF in 2007 by Susan and Philip Marineau, who started the foundation with a donation of $250,000 after their daughter began her time at the University. Since then, USF’s continued fundraising has accumulated more than $750,000 for the foundation. “We’re particularly interested in innovation in our donations,” said Philip, former president and CEO of companies such as Levi Strauss and Pepsi North America, in a comment to USF’s Giving News page. “What we believe in is people being able to hope and believe that their lives can be better. It’s not that you give it to them, but you empower them,” he said.
Donors contribute to the continuous fundraising by paying a minimum of $400 per ticket to attend the end-of-the-year Prize Dinner, honoring the work of a local organization that makes an extraordinary, philanthropic contribution to the community. The fund organizes a jury that selects the recipient of the year which best demonstrates the Jesuit ideal that great lives are lived for others. Former big-name recipients of the Prize include representatives from the San Francisco Giants and the San Francisco Free Clinic.
This year, the prize was awarded to the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund, the largest newspaper-sponsored philanthropy organization in the country. Founded in 1986 by Walter A. Haas, Jr. and Ira Hirschfield, Season of Sharing has raised more than $109 million for struggling Bay Area community members. This year, the 2014-15 campaign fundraised a record high total of $7,542,554, 85 percent of which is distributed to Bay Area individuals and families in times of need. The remaining 15 percent is distributed to Bay Area food banks. After the money has been donated to the individuals, reporters from the Chronicle write stories on the recipients that bring light to their tragic circumstances.
“Media has an interesting way to connect, and we do it all the time,” said Chronicle publisher Johnson, who accepted the award on behalf of the newspaper. “Our reporters do an amazing job and they love going after a juicy story. To get them to do some very interesting stories about people in need with the goal of letting the world know about it — I think they love it from the standpoint that it’s very different from what they do every day.”
David Lewis, a features editor for the Chronicle and primary editor of Season of Sharing stories, was affected by many of the stories he worked on for the fund. His favorite story from the past season was that of Betty Grant, a 79-year-old Napa Valley resident who was forced to evacuate her mobile home in last August’s 6.0 magnitude earthquake. “The first one we did this year was the quake victim. She’s real feisty and she had a dramatic story. She really wanted to give back — it was an experience that really affected her. By the end of the campaign, she really wanted to set up her own events and help others. And I thought that’s what it’s all about,” Lewis said.
Kevin Fagan, a reporter for the Chronicle, has written many of the Season of Sharing stories during his career at the Bay Area newspaper. “So the job, as a reporter, is to go talk to the people who we’re giving the grants to and just do a story about their lives and their problems so that people can see where that money is going to when they donate,” he said. “I really love doing that. It’s a function of newspapers. We, as newspapers, are supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That’s an old adage, and I believe in it deeply. It’s the responsibility of the newspaper to do good.”
Photo courtesy of Claudine Gossett/Drew Altizer Photography