Monday, November 17, 2008

Tis Better to Give...

I had been planning a post about giving this year and after reading New York magazine's sad article, Charities in Need this Season, I thought there was no better time than the present. I know there were many people who felt a gleeful sense of shadenfreude that so many wealthy Wall Street executives lost their jobs and that some banks went under but what they forgot is all the not so wealthy people they employed and helped with their money. I've already planned my Thanksgiving donation and my office has put together a donation for one of the charities mentioned in the article. This holiday season will be a tough one for many around the country and I hope you will help in any way you can.

While You’re in the Giving Mood
These charities have been hit particularly hard by the Wall Street crisis. What you can do to help.

1. Food Bank
Why they’re hurting: Washington Mutual and Lehman Brothers used to hold corporate volunteering days at the Food Bank’s 90,000-square-foot warehouse in Hunts Point. “Now we’ve lost that entire network,” says spokeswoman Carol Schneider. Meanwhile, the number of people who need the Food Bank’s services is rapidly rising. “I just got an e-mail from the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger,” says Schneider. “They’ve seen 1,200 people in the last two days. At least 50 of the families are completely new.”

What you can do: A donation of $1 at foodbanknyc.com translates into five meals. The group also relies heavily on volunteers to unpack and sort food donations and serve weekday meals at the community kitchen in East Harlem. E-mail Heather Joseph (hjoseph@foodbanknyc.org) to help.

2. Citymeals on Wheels
Why they’re hurting: The fall of Bear Stearns and several generous hedge-fund donors has taken a huge toll. “Altogether, we’ve lost $1.286 million this year. That’s about 200,000 meals,” says executive director Marcia Stein. While volunteers are always needed, what the charity really could use is more cash. “We need to make up losses in a time when food costs are rising by more than 7 percent.”

What you can do: Donations are the highest priority—each meal costs the organization $6.42—and they can be made at citymeals.org/donate. Volunteer to deliver meals for a day or an afternoon. Or if you’re ready for six-month commitment, sign up for the Friendly Visiting program. You’ll visit a homebound senior once a week for a half-hour, just to check in. For Friendly Visiting, download the volunteer application from the Website and fax it along with two references to 212-687-1296. E-mail volunteer@citymeals.org to help with deliveries.

3. United Way
Why they’re hurting: The organization has long-standing relationships with Fortune 500 companies like Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase, but many have cut back on their annual giving. “Our revenues are down, but our needs are up,” says Steve Kaufman, senior director of community affairs. “For every job lost on Wall Street, an additional 3.3 jobs are lost throughout the state’s economy,” a state of affairs that will undoubtedly affect the low-income communities his group serves.

What you can do: Volunteer for the year-old financial-literacy initiative called “MoneyUp,” which provides families with free financial counseling—opening bank accounts, prioritizing debt, processing tax returns. A brief orientation is required, but a professional financial background is not. The best way to donate is through unitedwaynyc.org; you can choose an “action area” to support and receive monthly e-updates on how your donation is helping. Call Natalia Lopez (212-251-4047) to volunteer.

4. Big Brothers, Big Sisters
Why they’re hurting: Bear Stearns was involved in the charity’s workplace-mentoring program, which brought teenagers into an office twice a month throughout the school year to learn about the professional world. “We have 47 corporations that have managed to stay with us,” says Michael Corriero, director of the New York office. “But if one leaves, that’s ten, fifteen, twenty kids left without a place to go.”

What you can do: The standard workplace program runs the length of the school year and brings teens into the office for four hours a month. If that’s too much commitment, businesses can also run a one-day mentoring program with employees and mentees (a.k.a. “littles”) spending at least two hours together. Individual volunteers can sign up to be paired with a “little” for at least eight hours a month for a year, on any activity they choose together. Volunteers and donors can get involved online at bigsnyc.org. Businesses interested in workplace programs can call 212-686-2042; ask for the workplace-mentoring center.

5. Habitat for Humanity
Why they’re hurting: Volunteers (including many former Bear staffers) are still willing to wield a hammer to build affordable-housing units for Habitat, but it’s the high cost of construction materials that will likely restrain projects. Since 2002, construction costs have shot up $112 per square foot. “It’s so crucial that we get donations,” says executive director Josh Lockwood. “We have a project in Brownsville where there are 8,000 requests for 41 condominiums.”

What you can do: As much as you may want to get out your tool belt, making a donation online at habitatnyc.org will go further. Habitat also accepts donations of tools and building materials. Contact senior project manager Gina Buffone (212-991-4000, ext. 311) to donate tools or materials. The group is not currently taking new volunteers.

To read about more charities that could use your help, please click here.

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