Charity on a Shoestring

by Betty Winslow

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If you were rich, you could give to those in need without worrying about what it cost. Most of us aren't, though, and some of us are barely scraping by. If that's where you are, don't stop supporting your favorite causes. Instead, get creative!

- Donate Unwanted Items.

Many thrift shops use their proceeds to support rehab units, homeless shelters, churches, and job training programs, and will accept donated items in good shape for resale. Animal shelters usually need lots of old newspapers and bedding. Libraries often accept like-new books for their collection or used books for resale. A children's hospital, day care center, or homeless shelter that house families may need toys. Homeless shelters may also accept clothing and household goods. Small non-profit offices or inner-city schools might welcome office or school supplies. Before you throw out anything, ask yourself who else might want it. Help others and avoid adding to landfills at the same time!

- Donate Food, Paper Goods, and Toiletries.

Ask local food pantries or soup kitchens what they need most, then buy it, using coupons and buy-one-get-one-free promos where possible to reduce costs. (You can even do this on food stamps. During one stony-broke period, I gave a wedding gift of recipes and ingredients to make them, bought with food stamps. It was a big hit.) Donate surplus produce. Pregnancy centers, safe houses, and other organizations need soap, toilet and facial tissues, paper towels, first aid supplies, and so on. Shop at your local dollar store. It's amazing what you can find for $1!

- Donate Specific Items from Thrift Shops or Garage Sales.

Although my youngest child is seventeen, I still buy gently-used baby and maternity clothes whenever I can, to donate to our crisis pregnancy center, as well as children's winter outerwear for our church's Christmas "Mitten Tree" and the local Salvation Army's "Coats For Kids" program. I especially like "$1 a bag" days. It's amazing how much will fit into one bag if you fold everything neatly!

- Donate Your Trash.

Does a nearby organization collect pop tabs for Ronald McDonald House? Is there a local school collecting labels for the Campbell's "Labels for Education" program or the General Mills "Box Tops for Education" program? Find out how and where to donate them and have the pleasure of turning bits of trash into support for a favorite cause, without spending an extra cent.

- Donate Your Time.

"Time is money" is not just an old saying. Non-profit organizations that can't get volunteers must pay for labor, reducing the amount of money going to their work. Find out where you can help. Some jobs, like envelope-stuffing, computer work, laundry, and cleaning of donated items, can even be done at home, at your own convenience.

Ernest Hemingway once said, "Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is." Don't let circumstances keep you from making a difference. Put on your thinking cap. Find your niche. Start today!

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