Back when I was writing the Mel's Picks column for Sensors magazine, I generally devoted the December column to charitable giving. And that's what I'd like to do with this week's essay because, as we near the end of the year and start gearing up for the holiday season later this month, why not think about ways that you can share a little good fortune with others not so fortunate?
I'm also going to stress starting close to home. One of the side-effects of the housing bubble and the ongoing economic malaise that came in its wake is that more people than ever are having a very tough time of it. Both federal and local programs to help those in need are stretched very thin; demand is up and funding and staffing is down. According to the Household Food Security in the United States in 2010, based on the most recent U.S. Census data, the USDA's Economic Research Services finds that, although 85.5% of the population were food secure ("had access, at all times, to enough food for an active healthy life for all household members"), some 14.5% were food insecure for at least some time during the year while 5.4% had with very low food security. That's not quite one in six households that don't always know where their next meal is coming from.
One of the easiest ways you can help is to support your local food bank. You can either support your local food bank directly or you can donate to Feeding America, the U.S.'s leading domestic hunger-relief charity that maintains a nationwide network of food banks.
Don't forget shelter, the second of the most important basic needs. I'm fond of Habitat for Humanity, but there are lots of other housing-related charities out there, doing excellent work. Support them if you can.
And, finally, how about helping out some of the charities and organizations that support military families and veterans? The Wounded Warrior Project is a great one, for instance.
If you want to explore other ways to help this season, don't forget to do your homework. Charity Navigator provides excellent information on how efficient and well-managed the registered charities in its database are. If you're interested in particular types of charities, or just local ones, you can search based on those criteria. It's a valuable tool. Similarly, GuideStar gathers and publicizes information on nonprofit organizations. (I find Charity Navigator slightly easier to use.)