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Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, the holidays are times we tend to reflect on all our blessings and in doing so we often about doing something to help those who are less fortunate.  The holidays are the times we most often open our hearts and our wallets.

Whether you choose to volunteer your time or give to a charity, or both,  it is always a good idea to do a little advance research to ensure you find the best volunteering opportunity or charity to suit your preferences.  Below, I've gathered some links that will help in making an informed decision and btw, these work for year 'round giving and volunteering!

One of the most popular ways to give back during the holiday season is to volunteer your time at a local soup kitchen or, food bank. The holidays are a particularly busy time for most charitable organizations and any amount of time, energy or expertise you can provide will be extremely appreciated.  

Food Pantries Locator - This resource is not affiliated with any government agency or nonprofit organization.  It is simply a directory.  To use, click on your state which will take you to a city listing.  Click on your city to go to a listing with local addresses, phone numbers and possibly web sites and/or a "more details" link for more information on volunteering or donating.

HSD Helping The Needy - Begun as only a homeless shelter directory, this site has branched out to include many other relief organizations.  Just click on the state and then the city.  There you will find addresses, phone numbers, maps, and further details.  Keep in mind, many of these organizations also accept donations other than food and some operate thrift stores as well.

Ample Harvest - This campaign works with many other organizations including Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" Initiative, the Department of Agriculture, National Gardening Association and many others in order to reach their vision of an America where millions of gardeners eliminate malnutrition and hunger in their own communities.  You enter your zip code to find your closest food pantry with address, phone number and a contact person.  If you are a gardener, there are links to assist you in donating your harvest and they also accept monetary donations.

Feeding America - The nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity.  There is a zip code search function that will help locate a food bank.  At the top right there is a "Ways to Give" button that lists several options.  Keep in mind that the Daily Kos community has two  DK Feeding America at Daily Kos blogathons every year.  

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If you are pressed for time and feel you cannot volunteer, you can still get involved by donating food.  Food donations are welcome all year, but the need is especially high during the holidays.  Here are some tips and resources:

Call ahead.  Find out exactly what types of food the charity or food bank needs.  Most prefer non-perishable canned food, but there are some organizations that serve free meals and may appreciate perishable food items as well.

If you're feeling really ambitious, you can hold a food drive and invite others to help you collect food.  Be certain to always, always check expiration dates on all food collected.  

How to Donate Food to a Soup Kitchen During the Holidays - Tips, instructions and advice on donating to a Soup Kitchen.  Soup Kitchens rely heavily on the generous support of local citizens.

How to Donate Food To a Homeless Shelter - Many homeless go for days without eating so your donation of food would bring much needed nutrition, particularly during the coldest months.  Most shelters gladly accept clean and gently used clothing and blankets.

How to Make Food Donations - offers good tips including a reminder that your gift is tax deductible so save the receipt, pets are in need too and many of these organizations will accept pet food too.

Give Spot - contains a few links to locate a shelter, food bank or soup kitchen near you.  (Some links are not active)

Feeding America - Tips for grocery and food drives including other advice on launching a virtual food drive on your own using social networks.

 

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Donating to a Charity -  Tips and Resources

If you plan on donating money to a charity, there are a few tips to keep in mind:

~ If a charity asks you to donate "right this second" without giving you time to research them, they are most likely not trustworthy.

~ If an individual asks you to make a check out to them instead of the organization, do not do it!

~ Even though an organization is tax-exempt it does not mean that your donation is automatically tax-deductible.  Always check first to be sure.

~ Often fraudulent organizations have names very similar to well known legitimate ones.  Take every precaution to ensure you know who you are dealing with.

~ Keep in mind that when you receive a phone request for a donation, chances are good that the charity is paying the telemarketer 25-95% of what they are obtaining.  Most telemarketing for charity is a for-profit operation.  If you like the charity, always donate directly to them.

~ Get a receipt and keep a paper trail for tax purposes.

~ Whenever possible, donate by check or credit card.  This gives you another way to ensure your money went where it was intended.

Charity Navigator - a free resource for determining the ratings of a charity before gifting. They offer a search feature that allows you to type in the name of a charity that you would like to research (the search will provide a rating from 1 - 70 for overall, financial, and accounting & transparency performance; an income statement; revenue and expenses charts; compensation for leaders; the charity's mission statement and a listing of charities performing similar type of work).  The site also offers many tips such as advice on how to stop charity calls and mail solicitations, tax benefits and giving in times of crisis.  There are also top ten lists, featured charities, charity blogs, hot topics, newly rated and newly added charities, commentary, featured articles and market studies.  This is an incredible resource.

GuideStar - this resource for  non-profits includes smaller charities with an annual revenue less than what meets the criteria of Charity Navigator.  This is a free resource.  (Hat Tip to liz dexic)

Here are two sites that allow you to purchase charity gift cards and your recipient can choose the charity they want to receive the donation.

Just Give - Gift Cards

Charity Choice Gift Certificates

One last thing to keep in mind when you consider donating to a charity, many will accept airline miles, hotel loyalty points, stocks, computer equipment and other "in kind" gifts.  Don't forget to check to see if your employer has a matching gift program.

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A Million Thanks To All You Giving Angels
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