Buy a Charitable Holiday Gift
Not sure what to give everyone on your holiday list? Consider stopping by an alternative-gift fair, where instead of buying presents, you give donations in the names of friends and relatives. The gifts cover direct needs—asthma medicine for someone who can’t afford it, for example, or work clothes for someone trying to get a job. There are fairs all around Washington. Check aggw.org for dates and locations.
Buy a Family’s Holiday Dinner
Through December, a $28 donation to Bread for the City (202-265-2400; breadforthecity.org) will give a family ingredients for a Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hanukkah dinner complete with turkey and fixings.
The joy of volunteering is reaching out to someone—and these days, some time-pressed volunteers are doing it by e-mail.
The Sterling-based Orphan Foundation of America’s vMentor program (orphan.org) pairs foster children ages 16 to 23 with mentors who e-mail the student weekly. In2Books (in2books.epals.com), in Herndon, matches adult pen pals with kids from underserved elementary schools: Adult and child read the same five books during the school year and exchange e-mails about them to improve the child’s reading, writing, and critical thinking.
“These kids don’t have those kinds of relationships—to have someone over the course of a school year care about them,” says In2Books’s Rebecca Kilduff. “While virtual volunteering is technology-driven, don’t underestimate the ability to make a connection.”
Organize a Food Drive
Lines of hungry people are getting longer at food banks and soup kitchens. A way to help: Organize a food drive. Send an e-mail to friends and colleagues asking for donations, then drop off the cans and boxes at a charity that feeds the hungry. A few we like: Martha’s Table in DC (202-328-6608; marthastable.org) and Shepherd’s Table in Silver Spring (301-585-6463; shepherdstable.org). In Virginia, Arlington Food Assistance Center (703-845-8486; afacinfo.org), Food for Others in Fairfax (703-207-9173; foodforothers.org), and Loudoun Interfaith Relief in Leesburg (703-777-5911; interfaithrelief.org). Check the Web sites of the groups for a list of foods they accept.
Coach a Disabled Kid
Every weekend, volunteer “coaches” with KEEN Greater DC (301-770-3200; keengreaterdc.org) help developmentally disabled children and young adults run, swim, and play sports and music. The kids get exercise, build confidence, and have fun. KEEN welcomes even those with severe disabilities who can’t take part in other programs. Sessions last one to three hours. To become a coach, register on the group’s Web site the week you want to volunteer and arrive early for training. After that, sign up online whenever you can come. Times and locations in Maryland, Virginia, and the District are online.
Share Your Dog’s Love
Have a friendly pet? Consider joining a pet-therapy group. Volunteers take pets to hospitals, nursing homes, and other places where someone might need cheering up. Most of the animals are dogs, but groups welcome all kinds of pets from cats to horses. For more information, see page 185.
Adopt a Storm Drain
When storm drains fill with dirt and leaves, that debris flows into streams, the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Bay. “Our streams are getting overloaded,” says Elenor Hodges of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment (703-228-6427; arlingtonenvironment.org). You can help keep waterways healthy by sweeping out a storm drain near your home.
Give a Child a Teddy Bear
The Wendt Center for Loss and Healing (202-624-0010; wendtcenter.org) counsels grieving children and adults, often after a loved one dies unexpectedly. Each child gets a teddy bear for comfort, and the center always needs more. (New bears only, please.) Also needed: gift cards for stores that sell toys, art supplies, books, and groceries.
Donate Your Tickets
Have tickets you can’t use? Give them to the Yellow Ribbon Fund (240-223-1180; yellowribbonfund.org), an organization that helps injured soldiers and Marines and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center. Tickets to sporting events are very popular, but the group also welcomes tickets for concerts, plays, and other performances. (Advance notice is appreciated.) You can also attend one of the Yellow Ribbon Fund’s monthly meet-and-greets at Walter Reed. After making connections there, volunteers often invite individual servicemembers to play golf, have dinner, or watch a game.
>>Want more ways to do good? Check out our full charity package.