DEAR READERS: Every holiday season I go a little haywire, expressing my outsize affection for candy canes, hideous holiday sweaters and fake reindeer antlers clamped onto the family cat.
I assume my annual Santa crush is a function of growing up in New England and living in Chicago, two lovely but cold, dark and gray places. The holiday season brings twinkle lights into the gloom.
The thing I like the most about this season is how it unleashes the generous spirit. I think of this expression of faith and humanity as the true light of winter.
Every year I publish a column encouraging readers to give generously to support causes they care about. My suggestions are merely prompts meant to inspire you. They reflect my own quirky and individual interests.
This year I am making an effort to “buy local.” In addition to supporting some of these national organizations I will be donating to causes close to home, including building locally for Habitat for Humanity and raising money for my local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Great charities are transparent, show donors where the money goes and don’t just claim how much of their money goes to programs, but report measurable outcomes.
I check out all my recommendations on charitynavigator.org. All receive a top rating.
Feeding America: One in six Americans is hungry, and the economic stress affecting all of us is making hunger worse.
Feeding America’s goal is a hunger-free America. If you care about eliminating hunger, your dollar goes furthest with the national network of food banks across the country.
Feeding America offers a “gift catalogue” that allows donors to choose a food gift in honor of a loved one. And get this: A $100 donation buys holiday meals for 200 people! feedingamerica.org.
Meals on Wheels: Meals on Wheels volunteers deliver meals to housebound seniors. But they bring more than food; the human contact and interaction provide nourishment too.
I like the idea of the “Next Meal Club,” where donors give a set amount each month. According to the organization’s Web site, a $7 monthly donation guarantees a meal for a senior. mowaa.org.
United Through Reading: I am entranced by the work of this organization, which manages to unite deployed military parents with their children at home through DVDs of the parents reading aloud from favorite books, which the child at home can read from, with mom or dad. unitedthroughreading.org.
Promote literacy at home: Regular readers know I am also promoting a homegrown literacy effort, “A Book on Every Bed.” The concept is simple: You place a wrapped book on the bed of a child in your household on Christmas Eve. My little video about this is available at familyreading.org and on youtube.com/askingamy.
Fisher House Foundation: This very successful charity is a longtime favorite of mine. “Fisher houses” are large and comfortable homes linked to military hospitals. Family members can move in while their loved one is receiving long-term treatment. fisherhouse.org.
Homes for Our Troops: This organization raises money, buys materials and provides and coordinates professional help to build handicap-adapted houses for injured and disabled veterans, helping these men and women attain a degree of normalcy while they adapt to life at home. homesforourtroops.org.
This year the Syracuse, N.Y., symphony orchestra stopped playing; it is now dissolved because of bankruptcy.
When I was a child growing up in the area, our annual trip to hear the symphony was the only time I heard classical music, professionally played. The silence this holiday season is deafening.
Readers can help to prevent this by promoting the arts in their own towns by supporting and attending live theater and musical events.
And now my annual shoutout to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation (mhopus.org). This wonderful organization places new and refurbished musical instruments into the hands of young people.
U.S. Fund for UNICEF: This humanitarian organization is working to bring the child mortality rate from preventable diseases down to zero. Five years ago 25,500 children died each day of preventable causes; now the number is 21,000. unicefusa.org.
Refugees International: This organization advocates for the estimated 25 million stateless people living in refugee camps around the world. refugeesinternational.org.
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