How to Donate Locally

| February 19, 2013 | 6 Comments

Before moving from my last home, a little Sears bungalow that managed to have a full basement and garage-turned-tool-shed, I had to get rid of lots of stuff. And except for a few antiques, I gave it all away – through Freecycle or to close neighbors via our Yahoo group, where I announced an everything-goes free-for-all and my neighbors.  They picked the place clean, I tell ya.  Suddenly, my 26-year accumulation of stuff in that home wasn’t daunting at all.  Pretty darn manageable.

Even after the move, there’s been lots more stuff I no longer need or want, so I joined and used Greenbelt Freecycle, where I found takers for most but not everything.  But then I started to wonder if my give-aways could go to better causes than neighbors who want free stuff – actual charities.  So I started researching the possibilities, the more local the better.  You know that bumper sticker “Think globally, act locally”?  When it comes to charity, I agree.

How to Find Charities we can Trust

Giving locally has lots to recommend it – supporting your own community, for starters, but local charities are easier to trust, especially if you know the people running them.  As opposed to big national charities that may or may not be run well and shares our values.  I learned a lesson about that once when I worked briefly for a national organization addressing (supposedly) the problem of homelessness.  Turned out to be mostly bogus, in that the money went to fat salaries and an expensive conference and not much else.

Sure, there are charity-rating organizations and systems, and they make us feel better, but can we trust them? They use percentage of funds that go to program versus admin and fund-raising as the primary measure of a charity’s competence and trustworthiness, but that number is derived largely from self-reporting, like employees characterizing their own hours worked.  But at this bogus homelessness outfit the admin and fund-raising employees, including me, were told point-blank to lie about it and claim that all our time was spent on program.  On top of that, they hired an accounting firm that specializes in helping nonprofits rig the numbers.  One trick they learned was to initiate a clothing donation program where unsold clothes would be funneled or laundered if you will through the nonprofit on their way to other charities that would sell or distribute them to the needy, all of which was an accounting fiction that drove up their “program” percentage without having to even take possession of the clothes!  Yet their rating on the Charity Watch was an A+, and it still is.

See why I’m a skeptic?  So this is a compilation of local charities only, the more local the better.

For Stuff

Community Forklift in Hyattsville collects new and used building materials; they’re a project of Sustainable Community Initiatives.  They came and picked up my unwanted appliances and kitchen cabinets.

American Rescue Workers is a Christian charity that provides all sorts of services locally.  They’ve picked up furniture and assorted other items from my house, though sadly not the big bulky chair that no one seems to want – thanks to my fully-clawed cats, and the apparently ugly fabric.

Another way to reach DC-area charities is through the Good Donor website, where you can schedule a pickup for goods that’ll go to a varieties of charities, including Goodwill and Vietnam Vets of America.  I’ve never used them myself.

And I was happy to see that the City of Greenbelt provides a similar service, providing bi-monthly drop-offs at the Community Center parking lot, after which it’s all picked up by American Rescue Workers.  No pick-up available.  The City of Greenbelt website lists info about the donation drop-off and also encourages us to donate to these other organizations:  Vietnam Veterans, Purple Heart, Habitat for Humanity of PG, Salvation Army, Goodwill, Amvets, and Pregnancy Aid Center in College Park.  That’s a good collection, except:

When a local business encouraged people to donate to the Salvation Army on their Facebook page, some scathing comments were posted, which informed all the company’s followers that Salvation Army is more old-fashioned than we thought, at least when it comes to gay rights.  Here’s a brief overview of their anti-gay positions and actions.  So, it’s good to know something about where our donated stuff (and cash) go, right?



Moving on, thanks to Shayna Skolnik for cluing me in on the Greenbelt Nursery School’s spring yard sale.  I’m saving everything someone might actually BUY to donate to that local, worthy and noncontroversial cause.

And everyone seems to love Greenbelt’s Big Book Event.  The Greenbelt Elementary PTA runs a used book sale every year as part of the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival. They typically have more than 20,000 books for sale, all donated during the month of August.

For Stuff, Volunteer Time or $$

Club 125, the new Community Clubhouse in the heart of Old Greenbelt, is run by the nonprofit GreenSTEMS.  Click here to read about its Grand Opening, or click here to donate in any number of ways.

For $$

For donations of actual money, I’ve been super-impressed with Greenbelt Community Foundation, whose fall grant-giving event I wrote about.  To my mind, it’s the ideal charity – not just super-local, but all the projects are carefully vetted by people we know and trust, and a little money goes a long way.  I give year, and have put them in my will for waaaay off in the future.

Another perfect recipient for a cash donation is the beloved News  Review, which I’ve noticed is remarkably important to the community.  Its history of service is awesome, it couldn’t BE more local, and in this era of newspapers being forced to shut down by online competition, it needs our help.  Click here to read the Review’s recent request for readers to support it with cash subscriptions – page 1, left side.  I’m curious about what would be an appropriate amount, though.  Suggestions, anyone?

The Friends of the New Deal Cafe (FONDCA) is a great cause for supporting home-grown arts, by giving during their annual fall/winter donation drive.  They’re totally volunteer run (no employees at all!) and all donations we receive go to sponsor the arts at the New Deal Cafe (the art shows, new music equipment) or in Roosevelt Center (free out door concerts) and coming soon, their new poetry project. The artists supported by FONDCA are friends and neighbors right here in Greenbelt and surrounding communities.

Lauren Silberman suggests the Greenbelt Museum and writes that “The Friends of the Greenbelt Museum raise funds to pay for programs, exhibits and the education position, among other things. The museum has a tiny but dedicated staff, working hard to preserve the unique history of our community. In addition to financial donations, we are always looking for people with extra time to help volunteer for the museum as well. Donations can be made and more information can be found at http://greenbeltmuseum.org/support/.

Less local are these causes suggested in a comment below by Diane Fishburne:  S.O.M.E., Whitman-Walker Clinic, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Habitat for Humanity, all organizations she describes as worthy.  The latter two are national and international but there is solid evidence of their work.

More Local Causes?
Speaking of suggestions, send ‘em along and I’ll add them to this round-up.

Salvation Army photo credit.

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About the Author ()

Susan Harris has been writing online since 2005 - about gardening. (E.g., Garden Rant, Lawn Reform Coalition, and Behnkes Nursery.) In 2012 she started this community blog for and about her adopted hometown. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland Youtube Channel and does digital promotion for several Greenbelt organizations.

Comments (6)

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  1. Susan Harris says:

    Diane Fishburne replied to this via email:
    Wow! Very informative. Thank you! We have used such sites as Charity Watch in the past but will certainly look at them with a more jaundiced eye henceforth. In looking at our regular monetary donations, I was relieved to realize that most were, in fact, local, to some degree or another. S.O.M.E., Whitman-Walker Clinic, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary, P.C.R.M. and Habitat for Humanity are among them and are all worthy organizations. The latter two are national and international but there is solid evidence of their work.

    Many charities, S.O.M.E. among them, publish a list of specific items they desire. In some cases, your place of business may be willing to donate used office equipment. There was, at one point, an on-line resource, sort of like Craig’s List, that was specifically for non-profits to publish their wishlists. I cannot remember the name and was wondering if you had heard of such a thing?

  2. Lauren Silberman says:

    Please consider the Greenbelt Museum for your list. The Friends of the Greenbelt Museum raise funds to pay for programs, exhibits and the education position, among other things. The museum has a tiny but dedicated staff, working hard to preserve the unique history of our community. In addition to financial donations, we are always looking for people with extra time to help volunteer for the museum as well. Donations can be made and more information can be found at http://greenbeltmuseum.org/support/.

    I’m sorry that you had such an unpleasant experience at the organization you worked with. I work for a national museum association in D.C., and I find that my colleagues are working very hard to try and provide resources to museums across the country. The particular program I work with puts me in touch with over a hundred museums annually, and most of them are trying their best to collect, preserve and interpret their community’s cultural heritage on small budgets. While a few unsavory organizations exist, I have found the majority of nonprofits that I’ve been involved with to be upstanding in their attempt to do social good. I’ve even started a masters in management with a nonprofit/association specialization to make sure that I have even better expertise regarding good, transparent governance and can share that information with others. Thank you!

  3. Susan Harris says:

    Thanks for the great suggestion, Lauren! I love the museum, too, and will add it to the list pronto.

  4. Anna Socrates says:

    I would like to second what Lauren Silberman said about the Greenbelt Museum. I volunteer there and I have a great time guiding people through the Museum house and teaching them about the history of our unique community. The Museum is great community resource and sponsors programs and lectures throughout the year and a Retro Town Fair for Labor Day.

    Another organization that I would like to recommend to people looking to donate locally is Alight Dance Theater (http://alightdancetheater.org/). Alight, which is based in Greenbelt, creates original dance pieces. Some of their works have a Greenbelt connection, such as Hometown Heroes, the site-specific work created for the 75th anniversary and performed at the Greenbelt Museum.

    Alight is now working on StarGazing, a piece about the wonder of the night sky that will premiere at Dance Place. For its Greenbelt debut, StarGazing has an educational, as well as artistic mission. Alight is working with a NASA Goddard scientist to create a science enrichment component that will accompany special performances for children at Greenbelt Elementary School and SpringHill Lake.

    Donations will go toward paying for the bus to transport the Spring Hill Lake Elementary students to the Greenbelt Community Center for the performance and educational programs.

    Alight also welcomes community members as volunteers for its programs throughout the year, and of course as audience members for its performances.

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