Okay, folks, welcome my next guest blogger! She’s got lots of great ideas for how to help in your city or neighborhood. And just in time for the holidays, too. Oh, and if you have other helpful ideas, don’t be shy…leave a comment!
My name is Katerina Bent. I am a writer working on my first novel, a lover of all things vampire, and a self-described chaos junkie. I found my first “fix” when I started volunteering at domestic violence shelters 6 years ago. I felt comfortable, content even, in the mists of chaos. I liked knowing that my time was spent doing something meaningful, and that I could have a positive impact on the people around me. I know that not everyone is comfortable with direct service, but I do believe that most everyone wants to aid others. And why not? Being kind to someone creates a physical high of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter [1, 2, 3]. Giving can reduce blood pressure and stress while creating a sense of accomplishment and connection to our community [3, 4]. Below I’ve created a short list of cheap ways various personality types can help his/her community.
Need a hug by Mykl Roentine
CC BY-NC-SA 2.5
America wastes about 40% of edible food  at a cost of about $165 billion dollars a year . That 40% could go to feeding 25 MILLION Americans . Food rescue combines three social problems: excessive waste, poverty, and hunger. Keep Austin Fed is a great volunteer-run organization that collects food that is edible but not sellable from local restaurants, caterers, and various others, and brings them to families in need. By volunteering with a food rescue organization you can help reduce the numbers of people who go hungry in your community while contributing to our environmental health.
Go for a walk with a bag and a pair of gloves
Keep America Beautiful (KAB) estimates that picking up litter costs about $11.5 billion a year . When you pick up around your neighborhood, you reduce that cost and discourage others from littering. As KAB says, “litter begets litter” . People are more likely to throw their trash in a place that’s already been trashed. So take a walk, enjoy the sunshine and fresh air and improve your neighborhood.
According to recent statistics 69.2%  of American’s are overweight, 11.5%  have a diagnosed heart problem, and 8.3%  have diabetes. Helping your community doesn’t always mean joining a non-profit. Sometimes the best way to do good is by helping those close to you. Consider challenging yourself and your friends and family to a month of walking daily or a month without refined sugar. Walking helps manage weight, prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure, along with lifting your mood and strengthening your bones [10, 11]. Reducing refined sugar in our diets reduces the likelihood of the aforementioned common western diseases [12, 13]. By doing a health month, you could improve your life, as well as the lives of those you love.
Organize a Drive
Food drive. Clothing drive. Book drive. Shelters and pantries are always low on something. Not to mention, recycling items like clothing can have a beneficial impact on the environment. In 2006, 2.5 billion pounds of clothing were kept out of the dump by people purchasing gently used clothing . Some argue that recycling clothing reduces the use of pesticides used to grow cotton, water waste used in the dying process, and the amount of petroleum products used in clothing manufacturing . Donating clothes to known organizations like Salvation Army or Goodwill will funnel some of the profits into local help centers, like rehabilitation centers . Or donating clothing could just be your way of decluttering your closet. Either way call an organization, like the Salvation Army, your local shelters or food pantries, and see what they are in need of. Then, let people know you’re collecting items and where they can drop off their donations. There are some great tips on how to organize a drive here and here.
From The Morgue Files
I think one of the best things about volunteering directly is that you get to meet the people or animals that your work helps. For me, this is one of the reasons that I kept coming back for more. There are so many organizations and options that you can choose your level of time commitment and your choice of cause. You can start here or here to find a volunteering opportunity. The first question is, what matters to you?
Do you love kids? Maybe you miss the things you did as a child, climbing trees, braiding hair, whatever. Consider becoming a big brother or big sister. You don’t have that much extra time on your hands? What about teaching children how to read at your local YMCA?
Do you love animals, but don’t think you could have one long term? There’s pet fostering programs through Austin Pets Alive. You could foster an animal for 2 weeks before they are placed into a permanent home or put into a overnight adoption program.
Maybe you’re concerned about homelessness. The Point in Time Count through ECHO allows you to interact with those who are often ignored by our society. In January, small groups of individuals go and canvas Austin, talking to the homeless, interviewing 1 in 3, and taking count of how many there are. This not only allows you to hear their stories, but also provides much needed information for ECHO, who then uses the information to apply for funding.
Every Little Bit Helps
From The Morgue Files
The Time Depleted
I get it. I do. Sometimes you just don’t have a free minute to give. Consider donating money (hey, I said cheap not free). Every non-profit could use a little bit of extra cash, and it doesn’t have to be a lot. Giving money shows your support to causes that matter to you, and helps organizations that do good to continue their work.
Giving blood takes a little over an hour, and each donation can help save up to 3 people’s lives . Bonus, you get free cookies and juice at the end of it.
The Endorphin Junkie
Bike or walk wherever you can
Oil is a precious finite resource. Reducing our day-to-day oil consumption helps reduce our carbon footprint . Riding a bike or walking can help reduce the amount of smog, increase your health and mood, and reduce your cost of vehicle maintenance, all while helping the environment .
If you want to challenge your body and help a good cause, charity marathons are a great option. The MS 150 is a 2-day 150 mile bike ride from Houston to Austin that benefits research on multiple sclerosis and local MS services. To participate each rider is responsible for donating a minimum of $400. (Okay, you got me, $400 isn’t cheap. Even if you manage to get most of the entrance fee from friends and family, $400 is still a good chunk of change, but I thought it worth mentioning). Too rich for your blood, or maybe just bike riding isn’t your thing? There’s also Lights of Love 5K which benefits Ronald McDonald House. The cost of the 5K costs under $50. Not ready for a marathon? There’s a free app for iPhone and Android smart phones called Charity Miles. Runners, bikers, and walkers download the app, choose a charity they want to donate to, and turn it on right before starting their route. The app tracks your path, and gives 25 cents per mile for runners and walkers, and 10 cents per mile for bikers. When you’re done, you turn off the tracker and thanks the financial donor by posting on Facebook. This helps produce awareness of the cause, as well promoting the companies that donate.
I’m sure there are hundreds of other ways you can help your community. Tell me about your favorite ways in the comment section.
1. Svoboda. E. “Hard Wired for Giving.” The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324009304579041231971683854
2. Wendel. J. Epigenetics Shed New Light On Altruism. Genetic Literacy Project. http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/09/10/epigenetics-sheds-new-light-on-altruism/#.UoLvTVRDsic
3. Jarvis. A. “Cool to be Kind: The advantages of being altruistic.” The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/healthy-living/cool-to-be-kind-the-advantages-of-being-altruistic-6259543.html
4. “Community Service: Top 10 reasons to Volunteer.” UC San Diego. https://students.ucsd.edu/student-life/involvement/community/reasons.html
5. Keep Austin Fed. http://www.keepaustinfed.org/
6. Wilkes-Edrington. L. “Food Waste Costs Americans around $165 Billion Annually (Video)”. The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/03/food-waste-america_n_2404451.html
7. “Obesity and Overweight.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/overwt.htm
8. “Heart Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/heart.htm
9. “Diabetes Statistics.” American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/
10. “Walking: Trim your waistline, improve your health.” Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/walking/HQ01612
11. “The Benefits of Walking.” American Heart Association. http://www.startwalkingnow.org/whystart_benefits_walking.jsp
12. Gunnars. K. “Top 9 Reasons To Avoid Sugar as if Your Life Depended on it.” Authority Nutrition. http://authoritynutrition.com/9-reasons-to-avoid-sugar/
13. Foster. R. “My Year Off Sugar.” The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-foster/no-sugar-diet_b_1397439.html
14. Lee. L. “Recycled Clothing Facts.” SF Gate. http://homeguides.sfgate.com/recycled-clothing-79332.html
15. “Donations: Clothing, furniture and gently used items.” The Salvation Army. http://www.use.salvationarmy.org/use/www_usn20.nsf/vw-text-dynamic-arrays/B39AACDBD5B94ED48825770B005583AF
16. “9 Reasons for Donating Blood.” wftv.com. http://www.wftv.com/news/news/9-reasons-for-donating-blood/nFCPF/
17. Baskind. C. “12 Reasons to Start Using a Bicyle for Transportation.” Mother Nature Network. http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/transportation/stories/12-reasons-to-start-using-a-bicycle-for-transportation
18. Robertson. N. “Littering Facts: The causes and effects of littering.” Cereplast. http://www.cereplast.com/littering-facts-the-causes-and-effects-of-littering/