Organizations suggest top ways to donate time and money effectively

As people clamor for the latest technology, grapple for the newest toy and scramble to complete their shopping lists, many reach a similar conclusion – they want to find a way to give back.

According to Network for Good, an online organization that tracks charitable giving, 31 percent of all donations occur in December, creating what is often called the Giving Season. Leaders at local charitable organizations are happy to see the holidays bring a boost in generosity, but say donors should consider how their efforts can be of most benefit.

Deb Richardson-Moore, pastor and director at Triune Mercy Center, said that while it might not be the most creative or festive, the No. 1 way people can help is to “look for an agency that you trust, and give a financial donation. That’s going to help somebody all year round.”

While Christmas gifts are fun to buy, she points out that one present doesn’t go very far in addressing people’s needs. Instead, if a financial donation isn’t possible, she suggests donating to a reputable food pantry.

“Our pantry is getting hammered – demand is so high. We’re probably seeing 50 families per week,” she said. Triune, which offers a variety of assistance to Greenville’s homeless and marginalized, also welcomes gloves, warm hats and blankets that can help families during winter.

Socks and toilet paper

Frankie Powell, vice president for development at Miracle Hill Ministries, agrees that while kids like Barbies and basketballs, the most helpful donations are basics like socks and toilet paper.

“We’re taking care of 550 people every night in our shelters,” she said. “Toilet paper goes really quickly. We always need soap, shampoo, napkins. One homeless guy told me, ‘You don’t know how bad it is not to have clean socks.’ We take things like that for granted.”

Powell has two suggestions for people who want to help the homeless this holiday season. First is to simply acknowledge the homeless person. “Just say hello. That goes a long way. People often look away or are scared of them.”

Her second idea is to create a bag or box filled with basics like socks, soap, packs of crackers, water, gift certificates for fast food restaurants, toothpaste and toothbrush.

“I carry a Ziploc bag with these things in it and then if I see someone holding a sign or who seems to need it, I’ll give it to them,” she said. Giving money often fuels bad habits, as many people recognize, but giving a box of necessities “is a way to help them, not their habit,” Powell said.

The giving tree

Maj. Melody Davis, associate area commander for the Salvation Army in Greenville, Pickens and Oconee counties, agrees that helping with basic needs like food and shelter are incredibly important, but said giving a child the toy they asked for can be a bright spot during tough times.

Last year, just under 4,000 children were part of the program, and only 40 percent of the names were selected off of the trees at Haywood Mall and other locations. For the remaining 60 percent, Salvation Army volunteers gathered donations from Toys for Tots and other organizations to make sure each child got a little something Christmas morning.

“It’s so much better if a child gets chosen off of the tree. Anything you give goes directly to that child,” Davis said.

This year, the Angel Tree program signed up 4,164 children – the largest number ever, Davis said. The Angel Tree lists a child’s name, age and a gift request, and donors can select a child’s wish to fulfill, from bikes to less expensive items like shirts or pajamas.

She knows of several families who have a tradition of going to the Haywood Mall and letting kids find a child who is their same gender and age – a great way to help children relate to those in need and think about giving instead of receiving, she said.

Getting hands-on

Hands On Greenville was designed to help Greenville residents find ways to pitch in on community projects, and the holidays are no exception. The website lists several options, including packing food boxes for Harvest Hope, helping kids with homework and volunteering at community events.

Sheila Mettetal, volunteer engagement manager for United Way Hands On Greenville, said one-time volunteering picks up during Thanksgiving and Christmas, with the most common requests being to serve food on Thanksgiving and to buy presents for Christmas.

She said both are very helpful, but she tries to steer volunteers to less-requested activities like sorting and boxing food donations or creating their own food drive. For those who want to donate items, she steers them to a variety of organizations, including those that serve seniors or teenagers.

“I always suggest people buy books,” she said. “Any literacy organization or group that works with children would not turn that down – maybe A Child’s Haven or Julie Valentine Center.”

Check your list

Safe Harbor has found a simple way for contributors to give a tangible gift that is quick and will have real impact.

“We just started an Amazon Wish List,” said Amanda Manly, director of development and communications. “It features the items most needed in the shelter. People can buy an item like a stroller or diapers and it ships straight to us.”

Safe Harbor, which offers services for victims of domestic violence and their children, receives more than 30 percent of its donations in December, she said, which helps fund Greenville’s 34-bed shelter and other services.

Financial donations are always welcome, but she said those who want a more specific experience can email to donate items for specific families at the shelter. Manly said her family signed up to sponsor a mother, two toddlers and an infant, and will be providing clothes for the family along with toys for the kids.

“These families in the shelter often come with just the clothes on their back,” she said. “Over the holidays, they don’t have any other resources, so we provide everything they need for Christmas.”

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