How to help your suburban neighbors in need
People feel charitable during the holidays and want to do kind deeds. They just aren't always sure how.
Donating money helps, but so does donating time. Charitable organizations across the suburbs can use any skill or interest you have -- things like fixing houses, making quilts, playing guitar, baking cookies, caring for animals, or teaching people to read -- and they need your help.
During this season of giving, here are some tips to help you decide how to best channel your desire to help others:
• Decide what cause is important to you. What are you passionate about? Who helped you or your family this year? Maybe a friend or family member is battling a disease. You could donate money to support research for the cure or volunteer at the hospital that helped him or her. Maybe you want to help people in your community, or people on the other side of the globe. Or you care most about veterans, animal shelters, domestic abuse victims, kids or seniors. You can find the top-rated charities in specific areas at Charity Watch, an organization recommended by the Illinois Attorney General's office, charitywatch.org/toprated.html. Then go to their websites or call them to learn about volunteer options.
• Write a check. Donating money is the easiest and arguably the best way to help a charity. Just make sure to first verify that the charity is legitimate. The Illinois Attorney General's office warns people to take precautions before donating money, including never paying in cash and always checking out someone who's soliciting for donations.
See details about 640,000 nonprofit organizations nationwide by clicking on the GuideStar National Database of U.S. Charities, www.guidestar.org, or get information from the attorney general's Charitable Trust Bureau at (312) 814-2595.
• Donate your time locally. Arlington Heights-based Hands On Suburban Chicago and Wheaton-based Giving DuPage are among the nonprofit groups that coordinate volunteer opportunities in the north, northwest and west Chicago suburbs. They have hundreds of different opportunities, whether it's a one-hour commitment where you can bring the kids, projects for groups of employee during lunch or off-work hours, or activities geared specifically for seniors.
Patty Neuswangwer, Hands on Suburban Chicago's director of community investment, said the organization continues to see high demand for "adopt-a-family" type programs, where low-income families request specific items they need, including gifts to give to their children. They're also coordinating more employee volunteer projects for companies, in response to demand for them.
"We're seeing a shift in the way people are thinking about service," she said.
• Drop off donated items. Coats, toys, gloves and food drives are everywhere at this time of year. One example is Warm Up Chicago, a hat and glove drive with bins at the Morton Arboretum, the Brookfield Zoo, and the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe in conjunction with their light festivals. Did your kids get toys for Christmas they don't want? Donate them to the pediatric unit of your local hospital. You can do it year-round at many place, including Alexian Brothers Women's & Children's Hospital in Hoffman Estates.
• Check with your local township or house of worship. This is a great way to help people in your own community. Suburban townships run food pantries and senior programs, help low-income families and are always in need of volunteers and assistance. Churches and temples also have multiple programs at this time of year to help those in need.