Spotlight on Charity: Groups Cultivating Warmth & Good Will in the Great Lakes Bay Through Community Outreach

Posted In: Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 716   By: Mike Thompson

09th December, 2010     0

As Christmas approaches, people who normally don’t invest a lot of time or money into worthy causes will sometimes feel inspiration “to do something” over the holidays for the less fortunate.

They will make a spontaneous call to a local agency whose name they recognize.

Sometimes they will ask if they can volunteer at a soup kitchen or a giveaway site at Christmastime. They are always welcome, but to tell the truth, these schedules usually are planned in advance.

Local agencies always can use money, of course, but 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) For that matter, adult clothing, and used furniture and appliances, are 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. This is especially a sticking point with Ann Bierman, who is in her eighth year as Marketing & Development Director for The Salvation Army’s Saginaw County outreach.

“We provide 15 to 20 programs and services year-round, but when I speak to groups, a majority of people still don’t know about all that we do,” Bierman says.

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 a Christian church, with a congregation that gathers at 2030 North Carolina near State Street. Majors Wayne and Tracy Ruston conduct Sunday services.

The location is city–based, but the website make clear that the 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 120 years in Greater Saginaw and the City Rescue Mission has been here for 105, 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.

Still, they strive to keep a common touch. Marcia Reeves, the Rescue Mission’s public and church relations director, is advertising an open house from 9 a.m. to noon on Dec. 11 that will feature food prepared by WSGW Cookoff winners.

“Breakfast is $5 and tours are free of charge” Reeves says.

Another upcoming event is an old-fashioned radiothon from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Dec. 22, airing on WSGW, on WGER Mix106.3-FM, and on KISS (formerly WTLZ) 107.1 FM.


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. More than 200 requests from families entering the first week of December are still waiting to be “adopted”, says President/CEO Cherrie Benchley. To consider fulfilling a request, find the website 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 755-8855 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. Benchley also recommends Consumers Energy gift cards and gasoline gift cards.

Marsha Cooley, United Way director of community impact/volunteer services, 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.

“Our theme is Live United – Give, Advocate, Volunteer,” Cooley says. “Following that theme, our message this year is Think We Before Me. This is a great mantra for our community to live by.”

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.

“This is a neat full-circle way to give,” she says

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 will be added at 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 18, says Bonnie Dinninger, spouse of Senior Pastor Don Dinninger. Donations of clean toys in good shape will be accepted from 10 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 10, Dec. 13 and Dec. 15.
             • The East Side Soup Kitchen, 940 E. Genesee, can use donated non-perishable food or money to buy food, says Director Pam Cole. 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, says President/CEO Rich Premo. However, any citizen who desires an eye-opening experience “can hop on our truck (during deliveries to agencies) and see whom we 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.


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