Dear Readers:

I am a sucker for the holidays. I love the twinkling lights, the office parties -- even the hideous sweaters. Mainly, I treasure the occasion to review my many blessings.

Then I try to spread them around a little.

I'd like to encourage readers to take some time today to research ways in which they can help one another. Below is an eclectic list drawn from my own interests. My hope is that it will inspire readers to find their own ways to give, according to their own interests and abilities.

Some of your most valuable contributions will be in your own communities, through volunteering, contributing money or goods and services, or by exhibiting such simple kindnesses as shoveling snow from the neighbors' walk or visiting with an elderly friend.

Please don't forget our fellow citizens who have been displaced, whether by hurricane or by their service to the armed forces on foreign bases and battlefields.

Open your hearts.

Then open your wallets.

Salvation Army (www.salvationarmyusa.org): It seems that whenever there is trouble, the Salvation Army quickly and quietly shows up. This Christian organization has been serving the needy for 140 years.

When hurricanes struck the Gulf Coast this autumn, the Salvation Army set up 178 mobile feeding units and has served an estimated 5 million meals to hurricane survivors and rescue workers. The Salvation Army is an integral part of the fabric of many communities, providing food, clothing, shelter, counseling and social services.

This year the Salvation Army has launched an online "red kettle" campaign. This is a nifty way to donate, honoring the spirit of the thousands of volunteer bell ringers who pop up on Main Streets and in shopping malls and are such an integral part of our holiday season.

The American Red Cross (www.redcross.org): The Red Cross responded to the Gulf Coast hurricanes by making it possible for more than 340,000 people to remain in hotels in 46 states. Internationally, the American Red Cross works with its partners, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (www.ifrc.org), to assist survivors of the devastating earthquake in South Asia that killed about 80,000 people and injured and displaced an estimated 3 million more.

Oxfam America (www.oxfamamerica.org or call 800-776-9326): This is a Boston-based international development and relief agency that sends teams of people, tents, food and relief supplies directly to disaster zones.

Fisher House Foundation (www.fisherhouse.org or call 888-294-8560): More than 16,000 American soldiers have been wounded in action in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of these injured service members spend extended periods in hospitals in the United States while they receive treatment. The Fisher House Foundation runs "comfort houses" attached to every major military medical center, providing low- or no-cost housing to wounded soldiers and their families.

Care (www.care.org): The organization was founded in 1945 as a response to the plight of children affected by World War II. It operates in 70 countries, concentrating its efforts on assisting people who are poor and hungry. Care was one of the few international charities working to assist Iraqis; tragically the organization's Iraq director, Margaret Hassan, was kidnapped and murdered last year, forcing them to close operations there.

Refugees International (www.refugeesinternational.org): This tiny advocacy organization serves as an important voice -- sometimes the only voice -- for refugees and displaced persons around the world. Refugees International sends teams to locate displaced populations and then agitates with governmental and aid agencies to get help where it is desperately needed.

There are several Web sites that help generous people locate and then rate worthy charities. The best are:

www.charitynavigator.org

www.guidestar.org

www.give.org

www.charitywatch.org

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

(c)2005 by the Chicago Tribune

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