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Give Back to the Community This Holiday Season

A charitable donation is a thoughtful gift, but do some research before writing that check.

The scramble to find the perfect gift for friends and family is in full swing, but what do you get for those people who really have everything? A gift in their name to a charitable organization is a wonderful idea. The recipient will feel good about helping someone in need, and you will know your gift isn’t just collecting dust.

Since having a present to open is part of the fun of holiday gatherings, you can deliver the news of your donation in a special way. If your sister is a pet lover, for example, make a donation to the local animal shelter and give her a dog-tag key chain engraved with the donation information. If serving senior citizens is close to your dad’s heart, donate to the local Meals on Wheels or senior center and give him a mug or plate that says a donation has been made in his name. 

Giving to a church, favorite community organization, or alma mater is also sure to please. For those involved in agriculture, a donation in their name to the local 4-H or FFA group would be appreciated. Supply the leader with a thank-you card for the kids in the club to sign, then frame it and give to the recipient.

A sea of possibilities

Giving to local charities is always a good idea. That’s because, chances are, you know the people involved and you see the good work they are doing in the community. If you want to reach farther out into the world, though, the choices quickly become overwhelming. 

One way to make your way through the sea of nonprofit organizations is to use a website like Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org), GiveWell (givewell.org), or Charity Watch (charitywatch.org). These sites detail a wide range of charities to help you make an informed decision and get the most bang for your buck. 

On Charity Navigator, for example, you can search a specific nonprofit or look through the site’s categories (like arts, education, and health) to find one that fits the interests or location of the person you want to honor with a donation. 

Each charity is given a ranking from zero to four stars, plus financial and accountability scores. You can see the percentage of the charity’s total expenses spent on the programs and services it delivers, see how much the top officer is paid, review detailed financial information, and more. Charts and graphs make it easy to see which charities do the most with their donations and which ones may spend too much on administration and fund-raising expenses. The site also suggests similar charities that may be of interest and lets you compare multiple charities side by side.

Here are a few examples of agriculture-related charities that have at least a three-star rating from Charity Navigator. Before making a selection for your giving, investigate them for yourself by using one of the charity ratings websites.

Progressive Agriculture Foundation

progressiveag.org  |  888/257-3529

This group’s Safety Day program is the largest rural safety and health education program for children in North America. It provides education, training, and resources to make farm, ranch, and rural life safer and healthier for children.

Farmers & Hunters Feeding the Hungry

fhfh.org  |  866/438-3434

This organization encourages hunters and farmers to donate venison, other big game, or livestock to participating meat processors nationwide. Monetary donations help cover the cost of processing, packaging, and freezing the meat, which is then given to church pantries, community food banks, and other emergency assistance programs for distribution.

Heifer Project International

heifer.org  |  855/948-6437

Heifer provides people in poverty in the U.S. and around the world with livestock and the training to care for it. The animals (such as bees, geese, rabbits, llamas, and cattle) provide food and a source of income, as the recipients sell honey, eggs, milk, and other products from their animals. In exchange, the recipient agrees to pass on the first female offspring of its livestock to another family in need. 

Mercy Corps

mercycorps.org  |  800/292-3355

With this organization, you can purchase an acre of rice, bag of seeds, equipment or a cow for a dairy, an irrigation system, supplies for a community garden, the planting of a tree, or support for a coffee grower. You can also provide clean water, launch a female entrepreneur, feed a child, or choose from many other gifts that help people around the world.

Agriculture Future of America

agfuture.org  |  888/472-4232

This group offers career development training and academic scholarships for students pursuing a career in an agriculture-related field. Participants make connections with industry leaders for mentorships that last beyond the college years. 

Of course, there are other ways to help in the community besides making monetary donations. Donating gently used items, food, and time can help people close to home.

Donate what you no longer need

Decluttering is such a hot topic right now. Make it easy to give by designating giving spaces within your home. Here are three ways:

  • Line a hamper with a garbage bag and place it in your closet. As you come across pieces of clothing that no longer fit or that you just don’t wear anymore, toss them in. Once the bag is full, donate it and start a new bag. 
  • Designate a shelf in your pantry as the giving shelf. When you find a great sale on canned or boxed foods or toiletries, pick up a few extras for the shelf. Once it’s full, box up those items and give them to a local food pantry. (Tip from a local food pantry manager: Call them before you do any extra shopping to find out if they have any specific needs. For example, if a local farmer has donated ground beef, they may want buns to go with it.)
  • Let the kids decorate a box for the playroom. Over time, they can fill it with toys they no longer play with. When the box is full, they can deliver it to a local charity and know they’ve made another kid’s day.

ENCOURAGE KIDS TO VOLUNTEER IN THEIR COMMUNITIES

The Boy Scout slogan is, "Do a good turn daily." When the boys in my sons' troop were working on the Citizenship in the Community merit badge, one requirement was to learn about local charitable organizations and to volunteer several hours with one.

About that time, our community began holding regular food bank events. A truck would bring food from the big food bank in Des Moines, volunteers unloaded and organized it, and any community member who needed a little help could come and share in the bounty.

When my boys, Jake, Luke, and Will, learned about the food bank, they decided to dedicate their volunteer hours there, but they had some questions. What could kids do to help? Does anyone in our community really need this? Would it be awkward if they saw a classmate coming to get food? 

Before the first event, I had a talk with them about the importance of confidentiality, how everyone has hard times, and nobody should have to go hungry. 

Once the truck arrived, the boys sprang into action, carrying boxes and stacking food on tables. It wasn’t long before people started showing up, bags and baskets in hand. We served senior citizens, young moms with babies, and everyone in between. 

Neighbors loaded baskets with canned and dry goods, fresh-baked bread, frozen chicken, just-picked sweet corn, and watermelons. Then the boys helped load everything into cars.

“It’s so worth putting the time and work into a project like this,” Luke said, “because it makes a real difference for people who need a little help.”

More than one person offered the boys a tip for their help, which, of course, they refused. They said they were happy to help and do their good turn. So many people told me it did their hearts good to see young people volunteering, and it made them feel cared for, seen, and valued.

“There’s nothing quite like the feeling of knowing you helped make a difference in the community,” Jake said.

My boys thought they would volunteer the required hours for their merit badges and then be done. But now they’re hooked and plan on continuing to volunteer at the food bank indefinitely.

Will said, “It makes me feel really great to help all those people and know they will have food on the table for their families." 

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