Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day Memo: Giving Back

Boxing Day: Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Today is Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. It's the day when people get to play with their Christmas gifts and return those they don't want to the stores so they can select something they "really" do want. It's also a big shopping day. Many shoppers use the day to go shopping with the gift cards they received as Christmas gifts, and also to take advantage of the "day after Christmas" specials many retail stores offer.

Boxing Day, which is a statutory holiday in the United Kingdom and in Canada, and celebrated more informally in the U.S. and other nations, has its origins in the old British Empire. On the day after Christmas--Boxing Day--the lords of the manor would hand out boxes of cloth, grains, other foodstuffs and tools to the serfs that lived on their land.

It also was the day when servants who had to work serving dinner to the landed gentry on Christmas Day got to take boxes of leftovers home to eat with their families. In some parts of the British Commonwealth, some stores close on Boxing Day in tribute to the working person.

Boxing Day also is a day, based on this tradition, to appreciate what one received on Christmas--and to express generosity by helping those who have less.

In the spirit of Boxing Day, and helping those with less, we've come up with four charities or helping organizations we ask you to read about, and if possible donate to or support in any way you can. Pick one, two or more; that's your choice. We also ask our readers to share these groups--and their good deeds--with family and friends via email. Below are the four groups we would like you to learn more about:

America's Second Harvest Food Banks: The Shelves are Empty

America's Second Harvest Food Banks are the procurement and distribution arm for thousands of community-based food pantry programs in all 50 states in the U.S.

Second Harvest raises funds and obtains donations of food and grocery products from the food and grocery industry, individuals, non-profit groups, churches, business entities, and other sources. The organization warehouses and distributes these goods to food pantry programs, who in-turn assist millions of Americans who are homeless, hungry, or are having problems making ends meet.

This year, food programs across America have reported that demand for food has increased by 5 to 20%, depending on the region of the country. In fact, Second Harvest's warehouses were so empty a week before Christmas, that the group sent out an SOS call to its food industry partners and individuals, asking for emergency donations of food and money because it couldn't meet the requests for basic foods from the food pantries it supplies.

The food and grocery industry responded rapidly--and generously. Wal-Mart, in partnership with a number of it's vendors, donated 50, 18-foot truckloads of food and grocery products to Second Harvest; enough to feed 3 million people, according to the non-profit food bank network. Other grocery retailers like Kroger Co., Safeway Stores (and others) also responded with food donations, as well as launching food drives in their stores.

Food marketing giant ConAgra Foods also responded in a huge way. The company donated 35 truckloads of food, estimated to be worth $1 million. ConAgra also has set up a matching funds donation program. And THIS is where individuals can have a big impact if you make a donation today or tomorrow.

ConAgra has established a $200,000 matching fund program for Second Harvest. The company will match any individual donation made in the next few days dollar-for-dollar, up to $200,000. In other words, if you donate just $10 today, ConAgra will match your ten bucks, so your total donation will actually be $20

Individual donations of even five or ten dollars are critical for Second Harvest right now. Their warehouses are again depleted because of all the food they provided to the pantry's for Christmas Day food giveaways. Additionally, many of their major food industry partners--like those mentioned above--have just given huge donations and aren't likely to be able to do so again this week. The situation is crucial.

According to Second Harvest, every dollar you donate provides 20 pounds of food to men, woman and children facing hunger in the U.S. That's a huge value!

You can make am online donation here (including getting the ConAgra matching donation), or get more information on how to donate via snail mail

My New Red Shoes: Helping the Poor and Homeless Get Back on Their Feet

Heather Hopkins, a 30-year-old Princeton University graduate and mother of a 3-year old daughter, is the founder and director of My New Red Shoes, a non-profit organization that provides new school clothes to homeless children, and children of low-income families in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Heather Hopkins, founder and director of My New Red Shoes, with some of the brand new shoes the organization gives to schoolchildren (they give clothes and school suppliers as well) in need. (Photo: courtesy San Francisco Chronicle.)

Ms. Hopkins came up with the idea for the organization after the birth of her daughter Annie three years ago. Heather's mother shared a story with her that when she was growing up the family fell on some hard times, and she often found it hard to be able to buy Heather new clothes and supplies for the new school year. Her mother always managed to find a way to get Ms. Hopkins some clothes though, so she would feel proud about how she looked on the first day of school.

After hearing that story from her mother, Ms. Hopkins decided to gather a bunch of friends and help some school children who needed clothing for school, but who's parents couldn't afford to buy it for them. She named the organization My New Red Shoes. Ironically, she later learned for the first time from her mother that she dressed Heather in a brand new pair of red shoes for her first day of Kindergarten.

In its very first year, My New Red Shoes provided brand new clothes, shoes and school supplies for 354 kids. Last year they clothed 600 kids for the new school year. And in 2008, Ms. Hopkins says the organization's goal is to provide new clothes, shoes and related supplies for 1,500 children, who otherwise would not be able to wear new clothes they can feel proud in to school.

The children's self-esteem--and quality of schoolwork--has soared. For the first time ever for many of them they are able to wear something brand new to school. Ms. Hopkins, the children's parents and teachers, and others, have all noticed a marked improvement in the kids' self-esteem and social interaction at school.

You can help My New Red Shoes provide those 1,500 kids with new clothes--and be a part of their soaring self-esteem--by making a donation of any size. Additionally, Ms. Hopkins and her friends would love to see individuals who want to make a difference in the lives of children replicate the program in other parts of the U.S.

You can learn all about My New Red Shoes on their website here. You also can make a donation of any size on the website. Lastly, if you want to replicate the program in your area, send Ms. Hopkins an email.

This is a great program, and even though you might not live in the Bay Area region, helping a child anywhere with a small donation will pay dividends for you regardless of where you live.

One Laptop Per Child: Connecting Poor Children to the Wider-World

The One Laptop per Child program, founded by The Media Lab Program at MIT, the famed technology university in Massachusetts, is bringing the world of personal computing and the world-wide web to children in impoverished countries one donation at a time and one laptop computer at a time.

Erik (left) and Fernando use their new laptops to work on a project during a nature class at their primary school in Arhuay, Peru. (Photo: courtesy AP.)
The sleek, innovative laptop computers created by the group, cost just $188 each, but bring millions of dollars worth of life to the kids who receive them. For the first time in their lives these children are able to access the world-wide web, and learn vocabulary, write, draw and more thanks to having a small computer of their own.

And the children who have thus far received the laptops, like those living in a rural village in Peru talked about in this article published today by the Associated Press, are taking to the machines just like kids in the west do--like it's completely natural to them. The parents of these children in Peru make about the same amount per year as the laptops cost, $188. Therefore, they would never in their wildest dreams be able to purchase one for their children. However, the One Laptop per Child program is making that dream possible; but only if the non-profit organization gets donations from you.

Kevin, 11, studies at a table in his family's modest home in Arahuay, a tiny hilltop village in the Andean Mountains. He is one of 50 schoolchildren who recently received free laptop computers from the one Laptop per Child project. (Photo: courtesy AP.)

And right now, until December 31, for every $188 you donate to buy a laptop computer for a child in a third world country, corporate donors to the program will match your donation 100%. This means that for your donation of $188, One Laptop per Child will be able to donate two computers instead of just one. It's a huge by-one-get-one-free (BOGO) opportunity,which is something those of you in the food and grocery industry know much about.

Also, since a donation of $188 can be a bit high for many of us, One Laptop per Child accepts donations of any size from individuals and companies towards the goal of providing one laptop at a time to kids in impoverished countries.

The project also is a great opportunity for businesses and other groups to get involved collectively. For example, a food or grocery company can make a donation, earmarking it to purchase whatever amount of laptops the value of the donation will buy. If you do so before December 31, your corporate donation also will qualify for the BOGO laptop promotion. Imagine this: if your company donates just under $2,000 (value of 10 laptops), with the buy-one-get-one-free promotion, that means the organization can donate 20 computers to 20 children.

The free laptop computer program is not only innovative, it's preventative. Just imagine how many of these children, once they get their own laptop computer, will be able to go on in their lives to productive careers. Not only will they be helping themselves and their families, but global society will gain the benefits as well. After all, the best social program is a good, well paying job, and these laptops could mean the difference between that job and poverty for these kids when they reach adulthood.

You can learn more about the One Laptop per Child program at the group's website here. You also can learn about the BOGO promotion on the website, and make a donation of any size. Also, you can read more about the program and the positive effects the recent donation of laptop computers is having on 50 primary school children in Peru, here. Play the Vocabulary Game and Feed Hungry People

We first wrote about on October 24. (You can read that story here.)
The premise of FreeRice is simple: Go on the website here. Play the vocabulary game, and for every word/answer you get right, FreeRice will donate 20 grains of rice through the United Nations World Food Programme to help end world hunger. It costs you nothing. All the rice is paid for by corporate sponsors, who's small advertisements you see flashing at the bottom of the game screen on the website.
When we wrote about the program and game on October 24, (the vocabulary game/project began on October 7, 2007) a total of 195,074,730 grains of rice had been donated to date. As of today, the total is up to 11,470,275,730 grains of rice that have donated through the United Nations to help end world hunger.

It's easy to push that total up even more. Just go to the website and play the game for a bit. It's simple, and everything you need to know to play the vocabulary game is right on the website. It costs you nothing out of your pocket, just a little time. And that time is well spent, since we can all use some vocabulary improvement.

In addition to playing the vocabulary game and feeding the hungry with free rice, you also can make a donation of any size to the United Nations World Food Programme.

You can learn more about what the UN food program does, and make a donation if you choose on their website. World hunger is something we all have a stake in reducing. Playing the vocabulary game is a simple, free way to help. Making a donation to the UN food program is another way you can do your part.
Happy Boxing Day, and thanks for giving back

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