I’ve been slightly dented by the bad news I’ve heard this year. In 2010, more parents have told me about losing their jobs, having a hard time paying the bills, losing their health insurance (this makes me insane/incensed!!), and losing their homes while I’ve been in clinic than I ever imagined. I’ve always had the fortune of financial support, either from my family as a child and young adult, or through loans for college and med school. My entire life, I’ve always had a place to sleep. In this down market, I’ve thought more about my good luck than ever before. I still have plenty of educational debt (like most doctors), but previously while living on educational loans or in medical training, I lived paycheck to paycheck. Therefore I didn’t have the luxury to give to charity. Or I didn’t choose to (that’s another way to look at it). Now as I get farther away from my training, I have more opportunity to give.
An utter privilege. Dent remover.
When my husband and I discussed giving to charity this month, we were slightly clueless about how to proceed. With our busy careers and with two young children this year, we haven’t had (or taken) time to volunteer outside of the institutions in which we work. We don’t have any new experiences to help guide where we should give. I’ve given to my schools previously and to organizations that I listen to regularly or have affected my own life. But others–those who reach out to children I don’t know? It dawned on me I should survey the Twitterscape. Lots of communities (read: medicine) remain skeptical about Twitter. I find it an irreplaceable tool in medicine, and in life. My list for its utility flourishes. And I’m not alone; a recent Pew research survey suggests 8% of all Americans use Twitter…
Twitter can offer an incredible marketplace of thought, emotion, opinion, and fact. For those skeptical, yes, it does offer falsehoods, inflation, myth, and blatant un-truths. Just like any other situation–on the street, in the hallway, or at the water cooler–you still have to use your brain when consuming on Twitter. But one great thing about Twitter is that it’s a perfect place to crowdsource. That is, aggregating peoples’ minds and experience to answer a question easily. When I grab my partners in clinic to “eye-ball” a rash or discuss a patient case where I have some indecision, I often tell families “Four eyes are better than two” because most often, it’s true. Even if those two sets of eyes don’t agree, the reasoning for disagreement is entirely useful in making clinical decisions and in guiding families in a plan. Collective insight, wisdom, and experience will always improve advice in health care. And in solving everyday-type problems. Hence crowd-sourcing on Twitter to determine where best to give…
I sent out a tweet a little over a week ago:
The rationale for me was it’s hard to prioritize; there are incredible non-profits contributing to children, but it’s hard to know where money goes the farthest or who is the most needy. I felt using the collective insight of those who follow me on Twitter could help. And it did. One of the most helpful tweets directed me to Navigating Charities, an online tool set up to improve the efficiency and understanding of giving and one that really helps you decide where to give donations. Any time of year. As we are often reminded, December is not the only time organizations need support.
Navigating Charities has a holiday section, multiple lists like “10 best charities everyone’s heard of,” tips on how to stop solicitation calls to your home, or tips on the tax benefits to giving. Before you give a donation, you can vet your charity, find out the CEO’s salary (if this matters to you) and evaluate their overhead.
Taking a lesson from Oprah, I plan to give anonymously. I remember long ago I read an article that Oprah was one of the most generous givers in the US, but often did so anonymously. There is even an organization, Giving Anonymously, where you can be your own charity and give anonymously to anyone you know. Hearing about others giving anonymously has remained with me. I’m certainly not looking for a thank you card or an acknowledgment for any donation I give. Writing this post is not fishing for it, either.
Here’s the condensed list (in no particular order) of organizations I heard about via Twitter:
- Northwest Mother’s Milk Bank: Pacific Northwest group working to gain funding to start and sustain donor mother’s milk bank. They are working to collect, pasteurize and distribute donor human milk to meet medical needs.
- Partners in Health. Founded by Paul Farmer (acclaimed infectious disease physician, author), PIH describes themselves as “providing a preferential option for the poor in health care.” “At its root, our mission is both medical and moral. It is based on solidarity, rather than charity alone. When a person in Peru, or Siberia, or rural Haiti falls ill, PIH uses all of the means at our disposal to make them well.”
- The Brilliance Project: Brilliance is a world-class phototherapy device that allows both rural and urban hospitals in the developing world to provide highly effective jaundice treatment at an affordable cost. They state, “Jaundice is the number one reason why newborns are admitted to hospitals. In the developing world, barely 1 in every 5 babies at-risk for brain damage or death receives effective treatment for jaundice. Yet, treating jaundice is simple. All it requires is blue light shined on a baby’s skin for 2-3 days.” They designed Brilliance, a world-class device that utilizes blue LEDs and provides effective treatment at an affordable price. Designed specifically for urban hospitals in low resources settings, Brilliance can withstand irregular power inputs and requires minimal maintenance. Stanford University tested Brilliance against state-of-the-art Western devices and found that Brilliance outperformed all of them.
- SAMA Foundation:SAMA (Science and Management of Addiction) works to support and help children suffering from or the consequences of addiction. “Our mission is to eliminate the disease of substance addiction in youth by advancing research, education and treatment. Our vision is that young people and their families find the resources they need to overcome the disease of substance addiction.” Their co-founder states, “If we’re honest, there is not a person among us whose life has not been disrupted—either directly, or indirectly—by addiction.” SAMA works in substance abuse prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery.
- Treehouse For Kids: I heard about Treehouse from 3 separate people! I spent a long time on their website. Their vision, “Treehouse is uniquely committed to improving the lives of our kids living in foster care. No other agency in our region responds to the needs of our foster children like Treehouse.” Treehouse serves children directly via 6 programs including help with clothing, activities, camp, tutoring, educational advocacy, and college and career planning.
- Hope For Henry Hope for Henry Foundation (HFHF) improves the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses by providing carefully chosen gifts and specially-designed programs to entertain and promote comfort, care and recovery.
- Autism Science Foundation Committed to funding and supporting research that will enhance the lives of children and adults with autism. “The Autism Science Foundation’s mission is to support autism research by providing funding and other assistance to scientists and organizations conducting, facilitating, publicizing and disseminating autism research. The organization also provides information about autism to the general public and serves to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the needs of individuals and families affected by autism.”
- Parents of Kids With Infectious Diseases mission is to educate the public about infectious diseases, the methods of prevention and transmission, the latest advances in medicine, and the elimination of social stigma borne by the infected; and to assist the families of the children living with hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, or other chronic, viral infectious diseases with emotional, financial and informational support.
- Compassion International “Releasing Children From Poverty in Jesus’ Name.” The charity accepts funding to sponsor a child, rescue babies and mothers, educate a student leader, or meet critical needs.
- Foodbank at St Mary’s The Food Bank @ St. Mary’s helps provide food for people who find they are unable to provide it for themselves. “Some of the people who come in have temporarily hit hard times, but many are experiencing long term economic struggles.” Anyone living in Seattle is welcome to use the food bank. They also sponsor a home delivery service for those who can’t come to the center due to age, illness, or disability.
- Reece’s Rainbow International Down Syndrome Orphan Ministry is “not an adoption agency, we are only a connecting point for these children to their ‘forever families'” Reece’s Rainbow serves as a voice of hope for these children who are languishing in orphanages and mental institutions around the world, when there are literally hundreds of families here in the US, Canada, and the UK who would rescue them if only the funds were available to do so.”
- Housing Hope: Their vision: Every individual aspiring to self-sufficiency should have access to a safe, secure, affordable home. Their mission: Housing Hope shall promote and provide a continuum of safe, decent, affordable housing and necessary related services for very low and low income residents of Snohomish County and Camano Island.
If you’re in a fortunate position where you can donate anywhere from $10 to $thousands, I hope these lists help inspire. Peek at Navigating Charities before you do give. Compare charities and inform yourself on how best to contribute to those around you. And make sure you’re aware if your charity is one of the 10 charities routinely in the red!
In full disclosure, I’ve worked for a few non-profits in my time (Teach For America, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Seattle Children’s) and this certainly colors my experience. I want to give to all three of them. But I also learned quite a bit while researching the lists above. My time on Navigating Charities was exceptionally informative.
What charities must we all know about? Why? Please share where you have given, or would like to donate in the future. Extend the crowd-sourcing.
Thank you for posting this information! Now that my daughter is 6 years old we’ve been talking about how “rich” we are to have a warm home and for her to have toys. Having her be part of the process is helping her understand the importance of charity. As she understands “we give now when we have to much and then maybe one day if we’re in need others can give back for us”.
There are soooo many charities though and it breaks my heart when I hear occasionally about ones that misuse their funds. So it takes a lot of research and sometimes it’s hard to find time for that. Thank you for posting all this information!
One more option is to ask the food bank in your neighborhood if they do adopt-a-family programs where they give you a description of a family and what they need and you can purchase it for them for Christmas. Our neighborhood food bank has done that the last few years.
Karen Swaim says
Thank you for finding and sharing this information. Someday I want to be in the position to support all those worthy causes. For now, I’m concentrating on the local homeless shelter. I have an 8-year-old daughter and have been talking to her about how rich we are to have a a loving family, a warm and comfortable home, enough food to eat, and enough to share with others. I’ve taken her with me to our local homeless shelter, and we have not merely dropped things off but have gone inside, met some of the people there, and seen what the place is like. Tomorrow, while she is off school for Christmas vacation, we’ll bake cookies, take them there, and visit awhile. I want her to see that “the homeless” are people who are just like us. except not so lucky. Again, thanks for the post.
Thanks for the resource! We plan to incorporate giving to a charity as part of our holiday tradition, as long as we are able. My sons are very young now, but in a few years we’ll want them to be involved in this. Now we have a place to start, to find a reputable organization that we wish to support.
Do you know offhand, is the March of Dimes generally considered reputable? I’ve done fundraising for them in the past, and consider their general cause very worthwhile. There but for the grace of God went I—-my preemies didn’t need NICU, but I know too many people who had NICU babies and so much work has been done in the last 20-30yrs to give those babies an excellent chance at a healthy normal life.
Thanks for sharing! The Northwest needs a milk bank! I’m glad to know about it and will contribute. I had 300 oz to donate but couldn’t make the drive to Vancouver, BC (nearest bank) or ship it to CA. I was able to donate to a friend with whom I could share lab results from blood tests. There is a huge need for this!
We gave a meager 4% this year, mostly to people we knew, our church, and organizations, alma maters, etc. I say meager because we wasted at least that amount so I know we can be less wasteful and do better next year.
If you have older kids, you can help pack food at the Northwest Harvest warehouse in Kent.
If you have younger kids, you can bring a wagon full of food to Hopelink. We did this with my daughter’s preschool class last week. They weigh the food (and the kids!). We went on a distribution day, so we saw the trucks and got to tour the inside of the freezer.
If you want to volunteer but don’t have a lot of free time, you can volunteer at the United Way Day of Caring in September. (I did this for 10 years because my employer paid for me to take a day off to go do it. You can go un-sponsored as well.)
Otherwise, Seattle Works has regular community service projects that you can sign up for either with your workplace, friends, or on your own. Some are kid friendly.
It’s difficult to find things to do with small children. My preschooler and I are making small care packages for homeless in our area. I got a packet of coupons from Taco Bell (not ideal, but they’re everywhere.) We put a coupon, granola bar, and meal coupon in a small sandwich bag. This week we’ll be writing small notes for each bag. In general I think it’s better to give money to food shelters because they have tremendous purchase power and can buy an entire meal for $1 in many cases. This project is just an ongoing effort to teach my kids to see poverty rather than look away. When my daughter learned to read she shouted one day as we pulled out of Whole Hoods, “Mama, mama, that man has a sign that says ‘Please help, need food’ why isn’t anyone helping him.”
We were fortunate that we had a $40,000 bill from Seattle Children’s but didn’t have to pay a single penny out of pocket. We ask for donations instead of gifts for bithdays and have a goal to match that amount in fund-raising or donations in our lifetimes. Money well spent!
I gave to planusa.org and sponsored a child about the same age as my daughter. She is learning about another country and culture and will be able to continue to exchange some pictures. Heifer international might also be a way to teach young kids or teens about another culture and the value of farming. You can print out holiday cards from the site to let people know about the charity and make the donation/gift more tangible: heifer.org.
In our family Tzedakah The kids get an allowance every month and a portion goes into a Tzedakah fund. then a couple times a year we choose and organization to donate too. For the holidays through our synagogue we donated to Eastside domestic violence choosing kids that corresponded to each of our children’s ages. We also as a family and through our business a martial arts dojo donated to the Pediatric Interim Care Center in Kent. They care drug exposed infants. They have been around for over 20 years and do wonderful things for these babies. We collected over 500 hundred diapers, shampoo, sleepers and more for them. We work very hard to teach the kids to appreciate what they get and to give to others that are in need. The PICC website is:https://www.picc.net/index.htm.
I am glad to see someone is finally working on getting a milk bank here in WA. I had so much extra milk with my second child but I was able to donate to a couple who adopted a baby and since she was struggling to gain weight they were happy to have the milk.
Christine from Shot of Prevention says
Thanks for this great post and all the time you took to research these organizations. In our family, we try to encourage community service all year round (delivering food to the local pantry, yard work for the elderly in our neighborhood, etc). Since our children don’t get an allowance, we encourage them to find ways they can help others, or do extra chores that we can pay them for if they want to contribute monetarily. Each of our five children have such different personalities and interests and therefore we let them each decided on their own charitable projects – for example, my one daughter really loves science, nature and animals so she tends to be interested in those types of organizations. My other child really enjoys music, so she has gone into local nursing homes and played for people there. Our church does a lot of work with Haiti so my younger ones tend to want to help contribute to that cause. Since we are a military family, we often “adopt” a family of a deployed Marine while also sending items overseas to deployed family members and giving to Toys for Tots. It is so important that children recognize that they have so much to give to the world – whether it be their time, their talents or their money. This type of charitable living can really make an impact on the world…just one child, one family at a time.
Thanks for the shout-out and support of the Northwest Mothers Milk Bank. We’re working hard to build a milk bank to serve sick and vulnerable babies throughout the NW region and beyond. We’ve got so many interested donors and so many babies who could benefit, what we need is the milk bank itself. Help us spread the word about the need and raise the money to open.
Learn more about how you can help: http://www.nwmmb.org
Thanks too for encouraging families to get involved in giving. Some truly wonderful organizations on your list.
This is the second year my son and I have adopted two kids off the angel tree at his school. The tree is set up by the counselor for families in need that attend his school. It’s a reminder for him that not everyone is as fortunate as us, and those kids might even be in his class. Also, through work we organized a low-cost flu shot clinic – $10 plus two cans of food for the local food bank. The response was overwhelming, we collected over two barrels of food and cash donations too and immunized over 150 people. I’m a big fan of organizations helping each other this season too!
I love supporting local food banks/food pantries and hunger-related charities such as Feeding America. Many people don’t realize that hunger is such a huge problem in our country, for adults and children, in all communities. Thanks for this post SMD! And Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to everyone!
And some facts for readers:
1. In 2009, 50.2 million Americans (up from 35.5 million in 2006), including 17.2 million children, are food insecure, or didn’t have the money or assistance to get enough food to maintain active, healthy lives.
2. In 2009, 65% of adults reported that they had been hungry, but did not eat because they could not afford enough food.
3. In 2008 alone, a rise of about 6% in the price of groceries has led the poor to adopt a variety of survival strategies, from buying food that is beyond its expiration date to visiting food banks.
4. About 33.7 million people in America participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — a program that provides monthly benefits to poor households to purchase approved food items from authorized food stores. According to the USDA, the average benefit per person was $124 per month and the Federal government spent over $53.6 billion on the program in 2009.
5. America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s major food bank network, annually provides food to over 23 million people. That is more than the population of the state of Texas.
6. 5.6 million households obtained emergency food from food pantries at least once during 2009.
7. The USDA recently found that about 96 billion pounds of food available for human consumption in the United States were thrown away by retailers, restaurants, farmers and households over the course of one year. Fresh fruits and vegetables, fluid milk, grain products, and sweeteners accounted for 2/3 of these losses.
8. Hungry adults miss more work and consume more health care than those who don’t go hungry.
9. Kids who experience hunger are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other illness.
10. The total cost of hunger to American society is said to be about $90 billion a year.
11. In contrast, it would only cost about $10 billion to $12 billion a year to virtually end hunger in our nation.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Thanks for your comment, the time you took to compose it, and the unbelievable statistics. These really do put things in perspective.
10 billion for 90 billion. That seems like a remarkable good deal!
Being hungry seems utterly un-okay in my book. Hate to think that you speak the truth. Thanks for the B Moyers link, too.
Here I am. Surrounding by my family, just having had seconds at Christmas dinner and then saw your comment on my iphone. I’m thankful for it, as I’m sure others are, as it puts holidays and time of excess in proper place. Motivates me to not only give more (in time or money), but think about this and talk about this in clinic more. No one ever wants a child to feel hungry (in the real sense, I mean). My kids definition of hunger is off, of course.
For me Christmas is a time of community. Ending hunger in America (and globally) will take that.
Besides the food bank in your community, how do we end this? How do we stop fancy grocery stores from dumping their deli cases at the end of the day into the dumpsters? How do we re-distribute the food in correct ways? How do we accurately respect “use before” dates but then acknowledge their limitations (when good food is still good)? Why do we throw away so much MILK???
Tell us what to do, Kathy. Of the links you provide on “do something,” what do YOU prioritize? What, as a nutritionist, have you seen work?
Merry Christmas to you all!
When I was in Nurse Practitioner Training, I took a class in which we went to the Orion Center for weekly “classroom” lectures. The twist: the lectures were from the teenagers who frequented this center; they were homeless, victims of violence, in gangs, bisexual/gay/transgender, drug addicted. They taught us and medical students what their life was like and we in turn were able to ask them questions about their lives and the choices they made or others made for them; hear about their families and lack thereof. I’ve never forgotten that class nor the teenagers and routinely donate gently used clothing, sample sizes of lotions, and money to the Orion Center, which is part of YouthCare.
WSS: Food gleaning works, when people are organized enough to do it. Priority areas should be keeping the local food pantries/banks fully stocked, year-round; not just during the holidays.
We have all been “hungry” at some time or another…like when we skip lunch because we’re too busy to fit into our day. But there are many people that don’t have the choice simply because they cannot afford to buy food. Kids go weekends without a proper meal because their family’s kitchen is bare, so they rely on school b’fast and lunch programs.
As a nutritionist, I know that hungry people can’t think straight. Hungry people can be depressed, grumpy and short-tempered. It is STRESSFUL to be hungry. Add on top of that hunger-related stress: holding down a job or looking for one, paying for other household & medical expenses, childcare, parenting…it’s a familial and societal disaster waiting to happen.
Another successful approach to hunger is WIC (Women, Infants & Children) which of course was designed to improve the health of infants & children, but it’s also been shown to improve the health of the entire family associated with that WIC mom/child. It’s also a very cost-effective public health/government program.
Donating food from grocery stores and restaurants (a form of food gleaning) seems to vary by city/state regulations depending on the health department regs in that area. Some are more strict than others. Sadly, it seems many who could donate are worried about liability over food borne illness risks. But (from the LA Times article I cite below) “A federal law, the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, was passed in 1996. It shields individuals and organizations from civil and criminal liability when food is donated to a nonprofit group.”
Food gleaning, or rescue, is really a great system, but unfortunately, many communities lack an organized approach to efficiently glean and get the foods where they are needed most.
Here are more sources of info on the issue:
https://www.solid-ground.org/Programs/Nutrition/Lettuce/Pages/default.aspx and https://gleanit.org/ (Seattle-based programs)
https://www.neighborhoodnotes.com/news/2010/09/urban_food_gleaning_portland_style/ (Portland-based program)
https://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=69.80.031 (WA state laws on the issue of gleaning)
LA Times article discussing how to get dining establishments to donate their leftovers: https://articles.latimes.com/2010/jul/28/business/la-fi-lazarus-20100727
And here is a very different approach to the leftovers problem:
Hope this gets people thinking and acting sooner than later. Perhaps 2011 can be a year for many of us to start a successful effort in our communities to organize/help with a food gleaning program.
Chris Johnson says
I think supporting your local food bank — with food, money, and time (the most precious resource) — has a huge impact. As Kathy notes upthread, hungry people don’t do well at any life task; nutrition is fundamental. Our own local food banks have been severely stretched these past months, often running out of nearly everything. I suspect this is the case across the country.
Besides food banks, my family has always supported the Heifer Project. You can choose a variety of animals to donate — ducks, goats, even bees — not just cows. My son gets quite involved with it, and it is a great project for a youth group. The kids raise the money to buy the critters of choice.
Peace is also fundamental to everything else, so my final suggestion is for folks to consider the American Friends Service Committee.