Charity starts at home

Got time to tackle those closets or organize the garage?

Plenty of nonprofit organizations are happy to take unwanted items off your hands

December 30, 2006|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,sun reporter

With end-of-the-year festivities a day away, make this the weekend you do something worthwhile to help those in need. Then you can ring in the new year in a charitable way.

Forget singing "Auld Lang Syne" and don't bother with the cocktails. If you truly want a case of the warm-and-fuzzies deep in your belly, take a moment to donate some gently used goods and valuables to a local charity.

That's not to say that financial donations aren't needed, because they almost always are. But if your cash is tight after a long season of giving, look for those things lying around your house collecting dust. Many can be useful to charities in the area.

If you're renovating your house, cleaning out your closets or looking to downsize your life, don't just toss your unwanted possessions into the garbage. Give them a second life by donating them to groups that help others find a better life.

"This is the best time of year to help a charity," says Lafeea Watson, a director of community relations for the Salvation Army. "People feel good, so they want to do good. What the community donates now is instrumental to how we can operate during both this time of the year and throughout the winter season.

"The extra bonus is that you can get a tax break, so there is some benefit and reward for you, too - besides the fact, of course, that you feel good from donating an item that you want to get rid of forever."

Not sure what local groups might need? Log onto mdcharity.org, pick your favorite charities, check out their background with the Maryland Office of the Secretary of State's Charities Registry and then call the charities to ask what essential items top their wish list.

Some charities will come pick up your donation. Others ask that you drop it off at a branch in your area. Just ask which option they prefer when you call. To assist your philanthropic work, we called a few groups for you.

Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake. 410-837-1800. good willches.org

Mission: Goodwill is a nonprofit, community-based organization that provides career-development services and employment opportunities for people with disabilities and other special needs. There are 21 retail/donation locations in the area and two donation-only centers.

Need: Clothing is the organization's No. 1 need. There's no prerequisite to wash or clean the clothes, but all should be in good condition. Gently used books, electronics (except computers), furniture and other housewares are also accepted.

Goodwill recently started a program to accept cars that are sold at auction to help low-income people with transportation and other needs.

Donations of other goods may be delivered to any of the stores or donation centers. Goodwill will pick up goods only if you're donating your estate to them.

"The proceeds from sales help fund job training and placement programs for people with disabilities or other disadvantaged conditions," said Jonathan Balog, marketing director. "We employ 550 people in Central Maryland and the Eastern Shore. We always have a need for items. We have actually been down in contributions a little bit compared to last year."

Salvation Army. 410-783-2920. uss.salvationarmy.org

Mission: The Salvation Army provides community programs for Boys and Girls Clubs, homeless-shelter and feeding programs, crisis intervention relating to eviction, food needs and utility turn-off services, and seasonal programs for the holidays.

Need: The two biggest needs it has are time and money. On the time front, volunteers are always useful to offset some of the organization's costs. On the financial front, the Red Kettle Program is its most widely recognizable fund raiser. Last year, the Salvation Army collected $349,000. This year, the goal is $410,000.

Most household items that are donated, such as clothing and furniture, are sold in the Salvation Army's thrift stores to raise money for the charity's Adult Rehabilitation Centers program. Donated vehicles are sold at auction to raise funds for the program.

Donations should be delivered to one of the thrift stores. Unsure how much you can write off on your taxes for the donation? Visit the Salvation Army Web site to check out a value guide.

"We really, really need to exceed what we raised last year," Watson said. "We're not seeing a decrease in need. Our thrift stores - there are eight in the Baltimore region - will be open through New Year's Eve to accept last-minute donations."

The Arc of Maryland. 410-571-9320. thearcmd.org

Mission: This is Maryland's largest statewide advocacy organization devoted to children and adults with mental retardation and developmental disabilities. Initiatives include family-leadership training, self-advocacy empowerment and public-policy advocacy.

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