In the flurry of holiday shopping and parties, the rush to complete end-of-year business, we are also reminded that this is the season to remember those less fortunate than ourselves.
Year-end fundraising appeal letters arrive by mail and e-mail from those to whom we have given before, encouraging renewed giving – a task many people set aside for the week after Christmas, when things have slowed down.
Yet there are many for whom the holidays could be considerably brightened by some giving right now – families that might face hunger rather than a feast, children whose stockings could be empty of toys, people whose very lives and livelihoods have been visited by illness or disaster beyond their control.
And there is still time. With Christmas still two weeks away, Patch has put together some giving opportunities that can put a gift of food, clothing, shelter – even fun – in front of someone who can use it now.
These organizations all have easy-to-access, easy-to-use online donation pages. In just a couple of minutes, you can make a difference to someone in your community or beyond before this holiday season passes.
No one should go hungry for the holidays
Hunger is often the first thing that comes to mind when we pause to think about those in need. It has been said that no one starves in America, but that doesn't mean that no one goes to bed, or to school, hungry, and it certainly doesn't mean that everyone gets a big holiday dinner with all the trimmings.
Nearly every community has a food pantry or food bank that will gladly accept your local donation of food, funds or both. But we are also very fortunate that in the Milwaukee area we have one very strong umbrella organization, Hunger Task Force, that tracks and coordinates needs throughout the area.
Hunger Task Force represents more than 70 member organizations throughout the greater metro area, with nearly all communities represented. By donating through Hunger Task Force online, you can specify where and how you want your gift used. You can also make a decision to extend your giving with an automatic monthly installment – which is most appreciated, because hunger never takes a holiday.
The Food Pantry of Waukesha County has a more local emphasis for those wanting to give to their neighbors. Serving thousands in Waukesha County each month, the food pantry can use food and monetary donations.
Brighten a needy child's face with toys
There are a number of organizations, large and small, that can help put a smile on a needy child's face come Christmas morning. These are a couple of the more prominent ones in the Milwaukee area.
The Salvation Annual Toy Shop allows needy families to come to their local Salvation Army location and choose from donated Christmas presents for their children. To qualify, families must register for the program, be below a certain income level and have children ages 15 and under.
Registration usually involves providing proof of identity, being the head of the household, providing their Social Security number and address. Families generally can pick up gifts until a few days before Christmas.
There are area chapter of the Salvation Army in Milwaukee County, Waukesha and Racine. You can direct your gift toward your community or spread the joy 'round the world through Salvation Army's main donations page.
In Waukesha, the Christmas Clearing Council of Waukesha County is matching families to hundreds of children who might not otherwise receive a present this year. And the Big Bundle Up is taking donations of new and gently used hats, mittens and gloves to bring warmth to those who can't afford winter gear.
Another local organization that coordinates an annual toy drive is The House of Peace–Milwaukee, a Capuchin Franciscan ministry. House of Peace provides needy families with both a meal for Christmas and toys for children to open on Christmas Day.
Toys are generally donated by both organizations like Toys R’ Us or community members, but you can also donate funds to support the programs online. Food baskets are generally uncooked to allow families a chance at a traditional day with both cooking, eating together and opening presents.
Helping the sick – directly or through research
Few things dampen the holiday spirit more than having a loved one, especially a child, sick and hospitalized. Check with your local hospital to see whether it has a specific holiday giving program that can brighten the season for those who can't be home.
Children's Hospital of Wisconsin has numerous ways to give, including a program that provides toys, games and art supplies year-'round, and a way to share globally through the Center for International Health.
Ronald McDonald House of Milwaukee helps the families of those who have a sick child at Children's Hospital, typically, and provides lodging, counseling and activities. The organization relies heavily on donations, which can be made online.
Anyone is certainly encouraged to donate to the disease-fighting organization or organizations of their choice, whether it be the American Cancer Society, Muscular Dystropy Association, American Diabetes Association or others.
But did you know you can also keep your dollars local while fighting for cures of the disease of your choice? Medical College of Wisconsin, which has become one of the leading medical research institutions in the nation, doesn't just take donations – its online giving page allows you to donate specifically for research and even for research in a specific disease field, whether it be cancer, heart disease or one of many others.
Imagine your first Christmas – in Sandy's wake
One thing that should still be on everyone's mind is the continuing plight of tens of thousands of American's whose homes, businesses, schools and hospitals were wrecked by Hurricane Sandy.
The American Red Cross has an online donation center set up specifically for Sandy victims, many of whom remain out of their homes and face a bleak holiday season – that could still be brightened a bit more with a better meal, clothing or a move to better shelter.
A living gift keeps on giving
There are far too many international organizations helping people in need around the world to name, but one that has always stood out for its resourceful, creative yet down-to-Earth efforts to fight hunger and poverty is Heifer International.
Through Heifer, every year thousands of people worldwide make gifts of sustainable livestock – goats, chickens, cows, and many others including hives of bees – to families in remote and impoverished areas.
There's something about giving the gift of a living animal that is also sustaining to the giver, and Heifer provides a whole catalog of opportunities for choosing your farm away from home.
These are just a few of the ways to give, now, to those who need help through the holidays.
Have a favorite charity that can still brighten someone's season? Tell us in the comments, and provide a link for giving if possible.