Mamatoga's Top Ten: How to Give to Charities Without Spending Money

While reading New York Magazine, I came across the Canstruction competition, the most unique food charity in the world.  Canstruction, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that holds annual design and building competitions to construct fantastic, giant sized structures made entirely out of canned food. In each city after the structures are built and the winners declared, the creations go on view to the general public as large scale art exhibits. At the close of the competitions all of the food used in the structures is donated to the local food banks for distribution to community emergency feeding programs.  This year NYC will exhibit their structures on Vesey Street  and West Ave. and when dismantled they will help feed more than 70,000 hungry New Yorkers. I began thinking of ways that I could help and discovered that there are tons of ways to help charities beyond just monetary donations. 1. Brain Power Did you know you can help others while improving your mind at the same time? Freerice.com is a game of trivia that donates 10 grains of rice for each answer that you get right. 10 grains of rice seems small, but collectively players have raised over 89 billion grains of rice since the game started in 2007. At the same time, they have improved their knowledge of Geography, Math, Art, and languages.

2. Craft Power If you're a knitter or someone who is more crafty, you can use your skills to donate. Project Linus provides “love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volunteer blanketeers.” Over 3 million blankets have been distributed since 1995.

Or if you have some like minded crafty friends, you could also start a private group like the HalfKnits – a small group of friends who made over 100 blankets and 40 sweater sets in their first year alone and are still going strong. They donate their work to local women’s shelters and hospitals as well as orphanages in Russia and Kenya.

3. Bio Power You can donate blood, cut off your hair, or even shave your head for a cause. Visit America’s Blood Centers or the American Red Cross for more information about donating blood or platelets. And if you're getting ready to chop off your locks, Locks of Love “provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada under age 21 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.”

Another way to donate using bio power is using your green thumb! If you have a vegetable garden, you can give through AmpleHarvest.org. According to their website, “One out of six Americans (including a quarter of all kids under six) does not have access to healthy fresh food… The AmpleHarvest.org Campaign is a national effort utilizing the Internet that enables 40+ million Americans who grow food in home gardens to easily donate their excess harvest to one of 3,500 registered local food pantries spread across all 50 states.”

4. Keyboard Power Use your keyboard to click and give. GoodSearch supports a cause you select every time you search the web. Other ways to give are at the tip of your fingers when you visit ‘click a day’ websites like CharityUSA or Care2. CharityUSA lets you select which cause you would like to click on to support (hunger, breast cancer, literacy, rainforests, animals, etc). I just visited The Hunger Site and my click gave the value of 1.1 cups of food to the hungry. It coudln't be easier! Care2 lets you log in in and track your impact – each daily click helps to sponsor a child in need. You can also download the free Touch To Give app and then touch a button to give to a cause of your choice every day.

 5. Tech Power Use your tech know how with worldcommunitygrid.org, which enables you to donate unused computer time to research facilities via grid computing. Or you can start a website or blog to raise awareness or to get your followers to donate for you.

6. Cleaning Power You can do yourself (and others in need) a favor by cleaning out your closets, your basement and your garage and donate your used clothing, toys, and books to a local charity. Don’t throw it out! If there isn’t a charity for your stuff, put it up on a site like freecycle.org and make someone’s day. If you volunteer for a charity, you can also use freecycle.org to collect stuff from other people cleaning out their homes. A way you can do this locally is by donating to the Franklin Community Center. They accept donations of food, clothing or household items. Donations of non-perishable food items for their food pantry can be dropped off at 10 Franklin Street, Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Clothing and household items can be dropped off at our Distribution Center, located at 101 Washington Street, on Tuesdays from between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. We must limit clothing donations to two bags of in-season clothing. They also accept donations of large furniture items. Donations can be made by calling 518-587-9826. They keep an on-going list, serving as a match for donors and people in-need. They cannot accept furniture items or provide transportation, but have been successfully arranging furniture donations through their system for 16 years.

7. Muscle Power Participate in an event that gives your muscles a workout instead of your wallet. Events like the Polar Plunge in Lake George to benefit Special Olympics happening Nov. 19th or the 10th Annual Saratoga Turkey Trot to benefit the Christopher Dailey Foundation on Thanksgiving Day are great ways to get some exercise (or a nice little jolt to the system via an ice cold lake!) to support local charities and only involve minimal entry fees.

8. Business Power Business owners: giving is also a great public relations strategy, and can even get your company free publicity. It can be as simple as making space at your business for a collection tin for your favorite charity or organizing a food bank or clothing collection.

9. Purchase Power Okay, I know what you're thinking- I thought you said this wasn’t going to cost me any money? By purchase power, we mean rethinking purchases you are going to make anyways (or have already made). For example, Heifer International is one of my favorite charities to donate to during Christmas. Heifer International gives out gifts of livestock, seeds and trees and extensive training to those in need. Based in Little Rock, Arkansas, Heifer International has helped more than 13.6 million families (71 million people) in more than 125 countries. I have found it is a great way to help little ones learn about giving, because you can tell them that instead of just money, a family in another country has received a sheep, a flock of chicks or some rabbits. It gives them an easier concept to grasp and every time I have donated in my nieces or nephew's name to Heifer they have always loved hearing what animal it was that the family received.

Also, some purchases earn you points in a reward program, which you can donate. You can donate your frequent flyer miles to a variety of charities, such as The Children’s Wish Foundation (Delta) or March of Dimes (Continental). Each airline is different, so check them out.

10. Hour Power As parents we all know time is a valuable commodity, and all of the 10 items on this list involve your willingness to donate some of your time. Some other ways to donate time to consider are using sites like VolunteerMatch which allow you to search for volunteer opportunities by location and keywords so that you can find a volunteer position just right for you. Consider your hobbies as well: you can help out while doing something you enjoy. For example, if diving is your hobby, you can join a research team on a marine conservation expedition with Global Vision International.