Charity & Goodwill Crown the Seasonal Spirit

Groups Cultivating Warmth & Sustenance in the Great Lakes Bay Through Community Outreach

Posted In: News, Local,   From Issue 801   By: Robert Martin and Matt deHeus

04th December, 2014     0

As Christmas approaches, it is an inevitable and welcome by-product of the seasonal spirit to witness people who normally don’t invest a lot of time or money into worthy causes to experience the inspiration to do something positive for people less fortunate.

Often they will contact an organization they recognize and ask if they can volunteer at a soup kitchen or play Santa Claus and offer their services at a giveaway site or a hospital; and while these endeavors are always welcome, often schedules from these organizations are planned in advance.

Local agencies can always use money, but as the base of the middle class continues to erode, often during these times a lot of folks have few dollars, if any, available to give.  In other words, community outreach at Christmas isn’t always as simple as it may seem.

Review Magazine conducted an extensive survey of some major nonprofits in a quest to provide good-hearted readers with some helpful advice for how they can make a difference during the holiday season. We did not attempt to survey the dozens upon dozens of churches, schools and business enterprises that also conduct outreach projects, because of the sheer numbers involved.

From the nonprofits, we learned some good points:  (1) A majority of the poor people living in our region are children and adolescents. If you have toys or clothing in the attic still in good shape, donate them. Books are good too, but take a good look; you don’t want a child to receive a book that has another kid’s name printed in big block letters inside the cover.  (2) Adult clothing, and used furniture and appliances, are always welcome.  (3) Consider the “multiplier effect.” Possibly you can only afford to offer a few toys or books or food and clothing items, but if you find friends or co-workers or relatives to contribute, you have multiplied your contributions.  (4) Keep in mind that Christmas is but one of 365 days in the year.

According to The Salvation Army’s Saginaw County outreach, that organization provides 15 to 20 programs and services year-round, however many people still do not know about all that the organization does.  Donors imagine their red kettle gifts being used only for holiday toys and food baskets, but in truth much of the money provides prevention of evictions and utility shutoffs, counseling for troubled adults and teens, and an array of activities for young people of all ages.

Beyond that, The Salvation Army is not only an anti-poverty agency but also offers a Christian church, with a congregation that gathers at 2030 North Carolina near State Street that conducts Sunday services.  While the location is city–based, their website makes clear that their array of services extend through all of Saginaw County:

Trained, professional casework staff cares for those in need of assistance by sharing such aid as groceries, medicine, clothing, rent and utility assistance, temporary shelter and travel vouchers. Social work officers serve Chesaning, Oakley, St. Charles, Brant, Hemlock, Merrill, Marion, Lakefield, Fremont, Jonesfield, Richland, and all other regions within Saginaw County's borders.

Some Agencies in Second Centuries
     
The Salvation Army has served for 124 years in Greater Saginaw and the City Rescue Mission has been here for 109, including the past few decades at 1021 Burt near East Genesee. These types of agencies are linked to national and international networks, and so they have well-established major fund-raising operations that involve donors giving stocks, mutual funds, wills, estates and trusts. They need hundreds of thousands of dollars for their widespread operations.     

United Way Goes Beyond Holiday Wish List
   
In addition to providing an “umbrella” function to support and raise funds for 30 year-round programs based at 22 community agencies, United Way of Saginaw Council coordinates the Holiday Wish List program, which has helped families have a brighter holiday season since 1985.  More than 200 requests from families entering the first week of December are still waiting to be “adopted”.  To consider fulfilling a request, find the website WWW.UnitedWaySaginaw.org and click on the Wish List logo. You may tailor your request to a certain category, such as “families” or “assisted living.” To participate over the telephone, call 989-755-0505 on any weekday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., but please act quickly.
           
United Way also will accept new items such as clothing, games, toys, dolls and books and household items (laundry, soap, shampoo, paper products, etc.) for holiday distribution.  Consumers Energy gift cards and gasoline gift cards are also little considered, but welcome and helpful items to give.
           
Marsha Cooley, United Way Vice-President suggests contacting adult care homes and asking what kinds of volunteer activities they would appreciate. This could range from singing Christmas carols to coordinating group games such as bingo. When we consider how many older folks have offspring who have moved away from mid-Michigan, this can be especially important; a simple hour’s visit can prove.

If someone possesses skills in knitting and crocheting, United Way accepts baby and full-size Afghans along with lap robes. For someone who lacks those skills, United Way will take donations of yarn.

Another point to consider for year-round volunteering is that United Way staff are always willing to interview you, to learn about your personal areas of interest and skills, and then refer you to an agency where you can find fulfillment. You wouldn’t have to stick with the first program you visited. Sometimes the second or even the third time is the charm.

Notes on Holiday Volunteer Opportunities
     
By now, the time has passed for some of the major activities, such as The Salvation Army‘s Coats for Kids. Keep in mind, though, virtually any agency serving the poor would accept the donation of a nice coat even if it’s in January rather than November.

Following are some more holiday events and giving opportunities: Old Town Christian Outreach at 600 Gratiot distributes food every Saturday, and a toy giveaway is also added over the holiday season.  Donations of clean toys in good shape are always welcome.

  • The East Side Soup Kitchen, 940 E. Genesee, can use donated non-perishable food or money to buy food. Cash allows kitchen staff to pick and purchase the specific items they need to “round out” balanced meals.
  • Hidden Harvest, which rescues food from wholesalers, stores and restaurants which otherwise might go to waste, is basically a warehouse operation without a large cadre of volunteers. However, any citizen who desires an eye-opening experience can hop on their truck during deliveries to agencies and see whom they serve. Hidden Harvest pairs with the East Side Soup Kitchen in the Hunger Solutions Center on East Genesee.
  • The Rescue Mission seeks dress and sport socks for men sizes 10 to 13, gloves and hats and scarves. Personal items such as wallets, cologne and handkerchiefs also are needed as the men regain self-respect. For women and children, the Mission seeks roomy sweaters, perfume and bubble bath, gloves and hats and scarves, wallets and purses, and blankets.

Worthwhile Bay County Charitable Entities

Do-All, Inc.
Do-All has a long history of providing programs and services to Bay County, particularly to those with disabilities.   The Holiday season provides ample opportunities for the organization’s good works to be felt in the community.  Though operated year round, Do-All’s Family Enrichment Center fulfills a variety of services for those in need as harsh weather rolls in.  Whether it is material assistance in a time of crisis or support for programs like Coats for Kids, Help for the Hungry or the Bay Arenac Diaper Bank, the Enrichment Center provides support and hope when the most difficult circumstances emerge.

Within its main mission of workforce training, Do-All also operates retail store fronts, such as the Do-Art Studio and Gallery.  The studio creates opportunities for artists – both with and without disabilities – to create, display and sell their art.  A visit to the studio at 810 Washington Ave, Bay City just might yield the perfect holiday gift for the most discerning people on your gift list.

Within the last few years Do-All has started a new tradition, with a celebratory Holiday Party for its employees and trainees.  The banquet provides an opportunity for everyone to get dressed for the occasion, enjoy traditional holiday foods with their friends and coworkers and to enjoy some of the best in local entertainment.  The event has quickly become one of the highlights of the Do-All calendar and a joy to everyone who gets the opportunity to attend.

Bay Area Women’s Center
The work of the Bay Area Women’s Center does not change based on season.  The first point of call for many women, children and families in crisis, the Center maintains active relationships with many other organizations in the area, including the United Way, the Salvation Army, the Department of Human Services, local food pantries and others.

Aside from its well-known services in the areas of domestic violence and sexual assault, the Center serves affected families in a variety of unique ways.  One example is an annual “Pillow Drive,” where new pillows are collected, so they can be distributed to women who come to the Center without having time to bring their own pillow.  It is one of many ways that the Women’s Center shows it has a true understanding of the hardships facing those that come to their facility in a time of need.

Fundraising is a full time undertaking for an organization that serves so many individuals in Bay and Arenac Counties.  Preparations are well under way for the one of the Center’s big events of the year – the Wild Game and Wine Tasting Dinner on February 7 at the Scottish Rite Temple in Bay City (information on tickets available at 989-686-2251).

The International Space Monkey Alliance (ISMA)
The Pinconning-based International Space Monkey Alliance (ISMA, for short) has gained a lot of area recognition for its successful Guerilla Warfare Tour, in which local bands work a circuit of regional music venues, making music and raising money (and their profile).

In the “off-season” from the Tour, the ISMA gets a chance to accomplish its real purpose, supporting local causes and individuals in Pinconning, Bay County and, increasingly, Northeastern Michigan. 

The organization has played a key role in the effort to fund and build a new band shell in Pinconning.  The IMSA crew also runs a regional “diaper bank,” in which diapers and donations are collected to be redistributed to those who need them.  Expansion of the IMSA circuit has resulted in increased contributions back to the communities hosting the weekly shows.

Outside of the Alliance, you will also often see ISMA members involved in many of the local benefits for those who have medical problems or significant family crisis.  While not officially part of the ISMA mission, this “one family at a time” method of philanthropy does not happen on its own and it is not unusual to see a member of the Alliance at the center of the efforts.  These services, in addition to the core activities of the ISMA, are greatly appreciated by their beneficiaries.

At present, the group is in full planning mode for this year’s ISMA tour, looking for volunteers and acts interested in this popular series that mixes fundraising with fun and entertainment.  More information on the ISMA mission or the Guerilla Warfare Tour can be obtained by calling (989)714-1721.

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