Hurricane Sandy dealt widespread destruction to multiple cities across the East Coast this week. The storm—cited as the largest in generations—took numerous lives and left in its wake heart-rending scenes of demolished homes and flooded city streets.
In the aftermath of the devastation, many faith-based and community organizations have wasted no time in extending assistance to those affected by Sandy’s wrath, as happens time and again when disasters strike. (continues below chart)
The connection between religion and volunteering/charitable giving is not simply anecdotal; it’s supported by research.
For example, individuals who frequently attend church services are, on average, more likely to volunteer and engage in community projects than those who attend infrequently. Those who place greater importance on religious beliefs are also more likely to volunteer. Individuals who say religious beliefs don’t matter as long as one is a good person are more than one-third less likely to volunteer compared to their peers who say religious beliefs are important (32 percent versus 51 percent).
Religious participation is also connected with a greater likelihood of performing individual acts of compassion, such as helping the homeless, giving blood, or displaying civility and honesty.
Charitable giving is also connected to religious commitment. Those with high levels of religious commitment report higher levels of overall charitable donations. Their charitable giving extends beyond the church doors, such that frequent church attendees are more likely to give to non-religious causes than those who rarely attend. Informal giving, such as assisting a homeless person, is also more likely among those who attend religious services more regularly.
The connection between religious participation and volunteering spans the age groups. High school seniors who frequently attend religious services, for instance, are more likely to volunteer on a weekly basis compared to their peers who attend less frequently. And adolescents who participate in religious activities are more likely to value volunteerism and engage in local community service. Their involvement as youth is positively connected with their civic participation in their young adult years.
Additionally, senior citizens who place a greater importance on religion are more likely to volunteer. Among a sample of adults age 70 and over, those who said that religion is important to them were 60 percent more likely to volunteer than their peers who did not say religion was important.
The United States is a charitable nation, and this is no doubt linked to the religiosity of its citizens. A country’s religious attendance is linked to rates of volunteer activity. Citizens in secular countries are less likely to volunteer than those who live in more religious countries.
Hurricane Sandy is a vivid reminder of the importance of communities coming together to assist one another. The volunteer assistance and charitable contributions of individuals and organizations plays a vital role in addressing human need, both in times of widespread loss and in times of individual tragedy. As individuals give of their time, means, and hearts to lift others, they provide invaluable relief to their fellow citizens.