The holidays often seem like an endless stream of ‘gimme gimme’, but there’s been an excellent trend, lately, of giving back. Some of the obvious ways are to donate to a local foodbank, shelter, or community outreach program, or, for animal lovers, your local rescue. Religious or not, some churches do have programs that are community-focused and beneficial.
But, if you don’t have a favorite local charity, there are some great, lesser-known charities that can use a little extra holiday cheer. The money you give them goes straight to their cause, not their bureaucracy. Some of them are ones I have personal experience with, others were recommended by BooklifeNow staff and Twitter users.
Veterans and Military Families
My personal ones skew a little toward the side of veteran-support, between working on War Stories, and my personal life. Our veterans come back from war to a life that expects them to immediately transform back to civilians, and many of them find that a difficult transition. The organizations below do some extra-special work for our returning soldiers.
Team Rubicon is a veteran owned-and-run relief organization. Volunteers use their skills and knowledge to provide disaster-relief. Due to the history of their volunteers, those areas include war-torn regions not always accessible to relief. They are 14,000 volunteers strong, and have deployed those volunteers on over 50 missions over the course of barely four years. They have provided relief in the wake of Sandy, Haiyan, this year’s Midwestern tornadoes, and the massive flooding in Pakistan. They have also deployed teams to Thailand/Burma, Haiti, Chili, and multiple African countries.
Besides all of that relief, they offer veterans a sense of purpose and community, saving lives and future. This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite groups.
Ways to help: Team Rubicon’s Box of Awesome is available on Amazon, in sizes from small to super-duper huge. It’s tax-deductible, and your money goes straight to helping them do more good. You can also donate money directly, or, if you’re a veteran, consider volunteering directly for them.
A few months ago, the special operations community reeled under the news of a mass-casualty event in the Middle East. A unit of Army Rangers and their support personnel suffered heavy casualties on a routine operation. Usually, when this happens, the government aids the families in getting to the appropriate place to claim the bodies, handle funeral expenses, and more. But the government was in shut-down, and decided that they weren’t going to pay out, leaving the grieving families hanging.
While powerful voices in the veteran community immediately put pressure on the government to change their stance, another group stepped in to make an immediate difference. Fisher House, a charity devoted to making sure that military families have somewhere to stay while soldiers are undergoing medical treatment and care, donated the $500,000 the government wouldn’t, to make sure that the families could attend to their fallen loved ones.
And while the government held an emergency session to get the money out, Fisher House was there and ready to support the people who needed it.
Child’s Play Charity -Recommendation and writing by BooklifeNow writer Geardrops.
The focus of Child’s Play Charity is to deliver toys and games to children in need. When it was founded in 2003, the charity’s efforts were focused on Seattle Children’s Hospital. In the following years, it would expand to cover hospitals around the world. Now they are expanding their focus to include bringing games to homes for battered women and children, and have ten pilot locations they are hoping to deliver gaming stations to this year. Child’s Play has one of the lowest overheads of any major charity, and as a result the bulk of the money that is donated to Child’s Play does reach those in need. Only a tiny percentage is required to keep the charity itself running; the rest goes directly to children in need.
People already familiar with Child’s Play might also be familiar with some of the drama concerning former founding members who are better-known as the creators of webcomic empire Penny Arcade. Since they are very publicly affiliated with Child’s Play, many assume they directly profit from it, and considering the problematic things they have said this year and in the past, this has caused some people to feel dissuaded from donating. If you are one of those people, worry not: Penny Arcade and Child’s Play are two separate entities, and they do not profit from it (note: Child’s Play is a non-profit organization). When it was founded, they took care to ensure it was its own independent organization. I recall one of the creators saying this was a deliberate move, that if something should happen to Penny Arcade, it should not impact Child’s Play.
It’s really an incredible charity and well worth your notice and, if possible, donation.
Liberty in North Korea -Recommended by Twitter user @scourger.
“Our work begins by rescuing North Korean refugees hiding in China, who are vulnerable to abuse and capture. It takes $2,500 to fund an individual’s rescue through a 3,000 mile underground railroad through China and Southeast Asia.
Every year, thousands of North Koreans risk their lives to escape political persecution and economic hardship. If caught trying to escape or caught in China and sent back, they are at risk of extremely harsh punishments, including brutal beatings, forced labor, forced abortions, torture, and internment in a political prison camp. To make matters worse, while hiding in China their illegal status forces them to work in invisible industries and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers and sex traffickers, as they have no recourse to any authorities. Although many refugees try to escape, many do not have the resources or connections to get themselves out of China. That’s where we come in.”
The Gathering Place -Recommended by Twitter user @ECthetwit
Every year, the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative conducts a point-in-time study to determine the number of homeless individuals living in Denver. In January 2013, they counted 11,167 people. Of this number, 43.4% were women and 62% were adults living in households with children. Additionally, 25.4% of the individuals surveyed were newly homeless, meaning they have been homeless less than a year and this is their first time to experience homelessness.
As Denver’s only daytime drop-in center for women, their children, and transgender individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty, The Gathering Place provides a variety of programs and services those who enter our doors.
Girls, Inc -Recommended by Twitter user @rakdaddy.
Girls Inc.® of Orange County has been a respected member of the non-profit community for almost 60 years. The mission of Girls Inc. is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. We put our mission into practice through the Girls Inc. experience that equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers and grow into healthy, educated and independent adults.
Girls Inc. of Orange County positively changes the lives of 4,500 girls, ages 4 1/2 to 18, each year, by providing year-round holistic, compensatory, and intentional programming focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), financial literacy, sound body image, healthy relationships, and college and career readiness.
“On an Autumn Saturday each year since 2008, tens of thousands of gamers have joined together to save the lives of local kids in a celebration of gaming culture that we call Extra Life. From console games to tabletop RPG’s to even lawn sports, Extra Life gives people that love to play a chance to do what they love to save lives and make a difference.
Originally designed as a 24-hour marathon of gaming, Extra Life has evolved to mean different things to different people (though most of our participants still attempt the marathon).
To participate you need only sign up (free) and gather the support of your friends and family through tax-deductible donations to your local CMN Hospital. Then on Saturday, November 2nd (or any day that works for you!) play any game(s) you want on any platform(s) that you want with anyone you want for as long as you want.
The proceeds from Extra Life stay where they’re raised to support children’s hospitals. Since 2008, our incredible players have raised more than 4 million dollars.”
Extra Life is a once-yearly event, so you can’t donate now (I don’t think), but I, and many other gamers, will be playing again next year, so mark your calendars!
American Red Cross
This one seems like an obvious choice, but I am including them for a different reason. The Red Cross offers a lot more hands-on opportunities than most places. CPR certification, blood donation, and community-outreach, there’s something for almost everyone.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg, culled from my personal experience and a few recommendations. So what’s your favorite place to give back?