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The Citizen’s (Alternative) Giving Guide

Tis the season to give. But need in Philly extends well beyond the holidays. Here, some ideas for helping Philadelphians who have less—all year round

Forget about overcrowded soup kitchens and #GivingTuesday. In Philadelphia, need goes well beyond just holiday charity.

As we all should know by now, with 26 percent of our population living in poverty, we are the poorest big city in America, and the only city in this country that is getting poorer. Last week we learned another hard truth: unlike in the rest of the country, more Philadelphians are also hungry. Over 300,000 Philadelphians experienced hunger from 2015 to 2017, around 18 percent of the city’s population.

It is shocking to think about. And it is not something solvable through simple acts of charity or kindness. It takes leadership, jobs, education, jobs and a coming together of Philadelphians around a common purpose—lifting all boats, so our city is the best that it can be.

As we head into Thanksgiving and the holidays, it’s a good time to consider what we all can do to relieve the effects of poverty for some of the 400,000 residents living below the poverty line in Philly, now and into the next year. After all, as Samantha Retamar, the Communications Coordinator for hunger-fighting agency Philabundance, says: “Hunger doesn’t take a holiday.”

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Ask What People Need 🗣

Don’t just donate your used clothes, or send your local schools and nonprofits what you think they need. Ask organizations what they most need help with—it might surprise you. And, do the same with people in your community who you know are in need. This has several benefits: You can provide the childcare, or Septa Key Card, or warm coat, or whatever that will get them through in the short-term. And, it can help you understand what’s really important.

Support A Living Wage 💰

Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is a scant $7.25 an hour—well below a living wage for even a single person in Philadelphia. That’s why socially-conscious business owner Ken Weinstein founded Wage Change, a voluntary effort among small businesses to increase the minimum wage. So far, Wage Change has over 50 participating businesses that you can support by spending your money there: check out the list, which includes places like Weinstein’s Trolley Car Diner, Night Kitchen Bakery, Tria Cafe, Philly Fair Trade Roasters, and more. If you’re a small business owner, consider joining the Wage Change movement and increasing your staff’s hourly wage to $11 an hour by 1/1/2020.

Resolve to Volunteer...in the New Year 🙋🏽

Philadelphians flock to volunteering opportunities during the holiday season, but hunger relief organizations in the city stress that the most need starts after the new year. The months of January through August, dubbed the “Heat or Eat” months, are when many low-income families have to choose between eating and heating (or cooling) their homes. It’s also when many non-profits see a massive decrease in volunteerism and donations.

Help Prevent Overdose Deaths 🙋🏽💰

Consider a different sort of holiday volunteering that is unique to our time and place: According to the Surveillance for Violent Deaths, drug overdoses increase during the holiday season, something especially problematic in Philadelphia, a nexus for opioid addiction. Prevention Point, the Kensington-based non-profit that has been tackling the drug crisis since 1992, offers an array of services including case management, medical care, overdose prevention education, and naloxone distribution. They are always looking for volunteers and donations.

Get The Most Out Of #GivingTuesday 🙋🏽💰

The altruistic cousin of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday takes place on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, when organizations and individuals from more than 150  countries around the world come together through social media for charity. Last year, the movement received more than 300 million dollars for charity. This year, they are trying to break that number. In Philadelphia, there are approximately 420 organizations registered with Giving Tuesday, so find out how you can best help the cause.

Support Black-Owned Businesses 🛍

Here’s a startling statistic: While 41 percent of Philadelphia is African American, only 2.4 percent of businesses are black-owned. What’s more egregious is that minority business owners pay higher interest rates from banks on average. This holiday season be a conscious consumer and consider shopping at black-owned businesses around the city. That not only supports African American families, but also keeps money in neighborhoods where they live and work. Go to iBuyBlack to find a selection of African-American owned restaurants, non-profits, realtors, and more around the city. And, check out the local chapter of the African American Chamber of Commerce for others.

Pass On Your Favorite Reads 🛍🙋🏽

Making room for a new passel of books on your shelves over the holidays? Consider donating your used books to incarcerated Philadelphians, to help them learn and connect while they are in jail. Local non-profit Books Through Bars collects and distributes free books and educational materials to Philadelphians behind bars. You can also volunteer to sort and deliver books.

Buy Some Charity Cheese 🛍

Philabundance is responsible for distributing about 24 million pounds of food each year to our hungry neighbors throughout Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. During the Thanksgiving season, they are one of the biggest facilitators of food drives and volunteer opportunities. An even easier (and tastier) way to give is by purchasing their line of “Abundantly Good” cheeses—distributed in partnership with Riverwards Produce, The Common Market, and the Third Wheel Cheese Company—from DiBruno Brothers, or online. Word on the street is that they are perfect for your Thanksgiving mac-and-cheese recipe.

Support Our New Neighbors 🙋🏽💰

The Nationalities Service Center welcomes over 30 refugees and immigrants to Philadelphia every month and provides them with a wide array of services from language access and proficiency, legal protections and remedies, community transition and integration, and more. To continue to meet the increasingly complex needs of immigrants and refugees, NSC relies on donations from the surrounding community. There are numerous ways to help the NSC, including monetary donations and buying items to furnish immigrant homes. Or, volunteer with HIAS, the 135-year-old refugee settlement group, for anything from child care to mental health services to communications.  

Employ the Homeless 🙋🏽💰

Buy soaps, candles, coasters and other gifts created by residents from Project HOME’s HOME Shop, with proceeds going to support employment opportunities for 40 residents. Donate to Adam Kesselman’s City Bright, which offers shelter residents throughout the city the opportunity to earn $20—and a letter of reference—on Saturday mornings for 2.5 hours of work picking up litter in their neighborhoods. Support companies that intentionally hire people who have been homeless, like Saxby’s, First Step Staffing and Keystone First. Better yet: Hire someone who is homeless yourself. The Chamber of Commerce’s Roadmap for Growth Action Team can help.

Contribute to a Virtual Food Drive 💰

Did you know that every year food pantries receive too much cranberry sauce? They also get too much canned green beans and stuffing. Instead of buying what you think food pantries need and delivering them in person, you can actually buy what they need most by starting a food drive online. Through Philabundance’s “Virtual Food Drive” you can start your own team, join a team, or even just contribute individually to make sure that your dollars are used in the best way possible.

Help Philadelphians Access Legal Aid 🙋🏽

Are you a lawyer? Then consider signing up for Philadelphia VIP, a pro bono legal hub, which currently has 351 cases in need of volunteer support. The Senior Law Center, which protects the rights of older Pennsylvanians, has a Volunteer Paralegal training on November 27th for their SeniorLAW Helpline, which offers free and confidential legal counseling. And, Community Legal Services, which provides accessible legal assistance for tenants and others, is always looking for volunteers (with and without legal training) to help—apply here.

Weigh In On Legislation Affecting the Poor 🙋🏽

Currently on the floor of Congress is the Farm Bill, calling for stricter requirements for receiving food stamps through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or “SNAP”). If the bill passes, it would cut nearly $17 billion from the program’s spending by 2028 by ending or reducing benefits for nearly 2 million people. According to Philabundance’s Retamar, SNAP provides “twelve times more help than any food bank in the country can,” so passing this bill would be a devastating blow to those struggling with food insecurity here and across the country. Click here to contact your elected congressperson.

Buy A Child A Book 🛍

Once the back-to-school season ends, teachers often have trouble keeping their classrooms well-stocked with reading materials. Thankfully, Philadelphia Reads’ Jacoby Book Bank provides teachers with up to 350 books per year for their classrooms. All books are donated through community book drives and monetary donations. You can support Jacoby Book Bank by becoming a member for $20/year or purchasing a book from the registry here.

Be A PAWS Foster Parent 🙋🏽

Our furry friends need help as well. With winter quickly approaching, foster homes are at the heart of PAWS’ ability to save the lives of many homeless animals. There are many kinds of animals that need help—ranging from newborn kittens to elderly dogs. If you open your home for just a few weeks, you can rescue a homeless pet and help it become a well-loved companion.

Teach Kids to be Mighty Writers 🙋🏽

Mighty Writers serves 3,000 Philadelphia kids every year through tutoring, college essay workshops, summer camps, and countless other programs. Their mission is to show students that writing takes place outside of the classroom every day. Mighty Writers has six locations throughout the city, plus one in Camden. You can help in whatever way best suits you: as a teaching assistant, tutor, mentor, workshop instructor or a volunteer at public events. To fill out a volunteer registration form, click here.

Spread Some Warmth 🛍

The name says it all: One Warm Coat is a national non-profit that works to provide a free, warm coat to any person in need. Since its inception in 1992, the organization has provided over 5.6 million coats to people in need. The organization has drop-off locations all around the Philadelphia area, so grab your slightly used old coat and put it to some good use. We dare you to give more than one.

Donate Toys To Children 🛍

Thousands of children go to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia every year to support loved ones or seek treatment themselves. Giving children toys to play with is just one way that makes these experiences a little less trying. As such, the hospital is holding a toy drive. Running till Tuesday, December 18th, the hospital is accepting new and safe (non-toxic) toys such as books, cards, gaming systems, and more. They also have a shopping list to make things easier. Drop-off date and time need to be requested and confirmed with Matt Piontkowski at piontkowskim@email.chop.edu.

Help Immigrants Access Health Care 🙋🏽

Since 2000, the Latinx population in South Philly has grown from 6,220 to 30,000; of that number, 38 percent live in poverty. Puentes de Salud was founded in 2004 as a nonprofit health and wellness center for Latinx immigrants. Today, their work also includes providing social services and education of all kinds—legal, health-related, or academic. You don’t have to be a doctor to help. Volunteering opportunities range from clinic intake to teaching yoga—check them all out here.

Tip Extra 💰

Did you know that on average, Philadelphians leave the highest tips at restaurants? We give around 20.3 percent, compared to the national average of 18.1 percent. Keep up the streak this holiday: As restaurants and bars begin to crowd with friend and family reunions, consider giving a little extra. You’ll be helping someone out during a gift-giving time that’s typically pretty expensive—the National Retail Federation is predicting that this year, consumers will spend an average of $1,007 on items like decorations, candy, and gifts. Don’t forget to extend that to drivers and staff at other establishments, too.

Vote 🗣

While we’re all recovering from the midterm frenzy and assessing the results, don’t forget to look forward. The next elections are the primaries in May, and it’s never too early to get active and informed. Keep an eye out for politicians, local and national, with a commitment to improving economic conditions and combating poverty. If you’re really brave, you could even broach the subject at a holiday dinner. Good luck with that.

🙋🏽 – Volunteer
💰 – Donate Money
🛍 – Conscious Consumption / Donate Goods
🗣 – Use your voice

Photo Ezra Wolfe via Flickr

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