Easy Ways to Help Others – Ritter Ames Mysteries

Easy Ways to Help Others

I’m a big fan of recycling, not just to stay green but because practically everyone I know has a habit of buying things they don’t always use to the “worn out” point of the item(s). Whether we’re talking clothes or books or–well, anything really–there’s always some group or organization that can use your discarded items. The landfill should be the last step to get rid of things, instead of the first option used.

I know different communities have different options, but there are national and worldwide organizations that can use your donations wherever you live. It may take a phone call or email, or maybe even a bit of postage, but your discarded items can truly help others, even if you don’t have ready cash to send to charity.

books sale imageFor example, our library’s annual “huge book sale” is coming in just a few weeks. I don’t read as many physical books as I once did–I tend to read more and more on my Kindle–but I always have books I can take in to contribute each year. And it’s such a win-win for everyone. The library gains my usually-once-read books, I gain more shelf space in my house, and the yearly exercise gives me a good reason to go back and consider whether some of those titles I thought I couldn’t live without are still on my “going to read again” list. And library patrons who come to the sale and buy the bargain books get to try out new authors they might not have read otherwise.

A new charity I just learned about this week is Medicine Bottles for Malawi.Medicine Bottle for Malawi          My household doesn’t have a lot of prescription medicine bottles, but I have older relatives who do. I love this great way to Malawi Projectrecycle and keep more plastic out of landfills. It’s hard to imagine countries like Malawi, so poor that when its people can get needed prescription drugs the pills often come folded in a scrap of paper because there are no bottles available. I’ll be collecting all our empty prescription bottles, and ship them off when I get a boxful. Here’s the link to The Malawi Project if you want more information, and the address to ship to as well.

We drive our cars as long as possible. Right now we have a 20-year-old Honda and our American Lung Association“newest” car is a 15-year-old Camry. So, when we give up a car we know we’re not going to get much of trade-in, despite the fact that we don’t drive long distances daily and there’s never any body damage to the vehicles. Instead, we donate to the American Lung Association–Vehicle Donation program, and they send out a tow truck (even if the car still runs) and the vehicle is picked up at our house within two days. How easy is that? The organization sells it, and the small profit is used to fund programs to help people with breathing issues. One of our friends told me recently that he donates his old cars Cars for Homesto Habitat for Humanity–Cars for Homes program.  Another friend always donates her old clunkers to National Public Radio, because the guys on Car Talk made her aware of the program, and she feels she’s giving back since she listens to NPR programs all day long.  Charity Navigator has a page with information on donating your car. For more information, Charity Watch has a page on the subject, too. If you’d like to find other organizations that take car donations, you can check websites like the BizTax Advisor.

And speaking of Habitat for Humanity, this organization not only helps low-income folks get into their first house. The organization also has Habitat for Humanity-ReStores in most major cities. At these ReStore locations, itemsHabitat for Humanity ReStore donated that cannot be used on jobs are sold to the public, and the proceeds are used to help fund building projects and other needs of the organization. We’ve donated old storm doors and cabinets after a remodel. And when we’re doing any DIY jobs around the house, we check there first for bargain supplies. We’ve purchased a $25 door to replace a closet door that cracked, lights to change the look in one of the rooms in our house, and an area rug we use every day. The store has every kind of building supply–some new, some recycled. I love going–whether I’m buying or donating–because it always feels like a treasure trove to explore. To donate or check out what the nearest store has to offer, go to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore website to find the nearest location in the U.S. and Canada.

Honey's grinAs a writer, and a devoted pet owner, animal organizations are near and dear to my heart as well. Both my 19-year-old cat who passed away this summer, and my wonderfully-goofy 4-year-old Labrador were rescues that stole my heart when they came to live with me. Because I feel animal rescue work is so important, I’ve located and written grant requests for my city’s animal shelter for several years. Each time I go into the shelter there is usually another new volunteer helping out. So, while downtime is always important, think about ways you can set some aside a little bit of time to help the community–animal or human. I promise, you’ll feel better for it and you’re liable to meet some terrific new friends. Win-win!

We have a local charity that takes any and all kinds of household items as donations–even upholstered furniture and large appliances, which our area Goodwill no longer takes. The local charity is a “second hand” store that supports a local domestic violence shelter. But while some items get into the store, most are actually given away to families of domestic abuse who often have to leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs to get away from their abusers. These kinds of “safe nets” are a great way to help people you may never meet, but by donating the items they need we help them create a new home. Through the years, we’ve used the store’s drop off zone to give this organization sofas, a refrigerator, chairs, old working televisions (my husband really wanted the thinner screens) and clothing we no longer used or our child outgrew. While I’ve shopped in the store (yes, I love a bargain, and knowing it’s supporting a charity makes it all the better), but I’ve never seen any of our donations on the shop’s floor. That made me feel good, because I knew 100% of my donation went to help a family or families in need. Oh, what a feeling! So, look around for small, out of the way stores that might be doing what this shop does–they never have good real estate spots on a main street, but the work they do is truly first class.

One huge warning, however. There are scams that use charities, just like there are scams that try to use every other avenue of our lives. The Federal Trade Commission has a great web page that gives a quick checklist on things to watch for to avoid charity scams, and also the things you need to be aware of if you want to deduct your donation(s) on your income taxes (yes, charitable donations to organizations that have a 501(c)3 designation by the IRS can be deducted if if you itemize on your tax return). You can get that information by going to The FTC webpage–Before Giving to a Charity.

11 Replies to “Easy Ways to Help Others”

  1. Great ideas, Ritter! I’m with you — there has to be someone out there who needs the “extras” that I can no longer use. Although we don’t do the “keep a car” thing, I’ve always had a friend or relative who is anxious to buy one of our cars as we take great care of them. And i love that libraries collect books — it is my great pleasure to bring bags of them and hopefully, they make some donation money on reselling them. When we moved from NC, I actually found a cat shelter that took donated books as well — it combined my two favorite things!

    1. Love the cat/book combo what a great way to donate and help animals and literacy at the same time 🙂 And, yes, we hang onto our vehicles longer than the norm–though the average now is 11 years for people who hang onto cars. Since hubby and I combined only drive about 6,000 to 7,000 miles each year (the true beauty of working from home), and because of the better quality built into cars for the past 20 years or so, we just hesitate to give up our lovely hard-working vehicles. Ad I’m with you–bags of books from the library sales are like an extra Christmas every year!

  2. When I saw your headline, I was going to tell you about the Malawi project, but you beat me to it! I’ve got a box all set up to collect my used pill bottles (that I do have more than my fair share of).

    1. Yes, Gin, I really got the idea for this blog because of learning about the Malawi Project. I put the info into an FB post several days ago, and a lot of people shared it, but as I set up a box in the cabinet just to collect empty prescription bottles I realized how many other ways it’s easy to help without expending a lot of time or money–ways my friends and I already do, so it made the blog a very quick and easy one to write.

  3. Our library first checks to see if we need the book in our library’s collection. If so, we add it so MANY people can use it. Otherwise, we have ‘free’ exchange paperbacks for anyone & it’s in the honor system, bring some, take some. Our Friends of the Library also sells books for a nominal fee to help fund some children’s programming. It allows people to get almost new books very inexpensively. (.25-$1.00) win-win. Plus we offer receipts for tax deductions. Also, Disabled Veterans has free pick up in most cities for used clothing, furniture, etc. for repairs-resale in their wonderful thrift stores.

    1. Yes, Kay, our library checks their collections first. And they have a regular “book sale” area set up all year round for people to buy donated books inexpensively (25 cents to $1) and a place where patrons can take or leave free magazines. Then once a year is the big book bonanza, and it’s not only good for a fundraiser, but since the library gets so much extra PSA advertising for the event it tends to bring new people into the library, which is another way to help keep libraries healthy and growing 🙂

  4. Goodwill is one of the places you can give clothes that you no longer want to wear. We have a shop run by Partners in Progress that sells used clothes and books that were left over from the libraries book sale. You can get a bag of books for $1.00.

    The senior center I go to, re[-uses grocery store plastic bags. Frozen meals are packed in them and delivered to homes.

    1. Oh, that’s such a good idea to use for plastic grocery bags! I tend to use my own bags for shopping, and use any of the small grocery plastic ones for bathroom trash cans. But now I’m going to see if I can get our town’s senior center to do a program like that. I’m not sure they have a frozen food giveaway program. They serve lunches every day, however, and I know they provide “to-go” containers of some sort. I may have to go by the facility and ask a few questions 🙂 Thank you!

      1. Our senior centers are run by the Area Agency on Aging. The centers ae open 9am-5pm M-F. Meals are delivered M, W, F. With frozen meals to cover Tue and Thurs. Some get two frozen meals on Friday for the weekend and a lot get meals for days the centers are closed. Drivers get a ccheck once a month that pays bacck X amount per mile. Some centers get their bags from near-by stores as a donation.
        Our center has to pay for all paper supplies we use, soap, cleaning supplies and condiments/ I believe there was a program in PA that allowed hunters to donate deer meat to food pantries. I know that produce is always welcome.

  5. The Malawi project is new to me so thanks for adding it to my list; we DO use too many medicine bottles! Remember when you could get a refill in the same bottle!
    A second thing I love about Habitat is that they train the families in budgeting and provide guidance in other areas to increase a family’s chance of success, so they are near the top of our list. It is hard to decide which charities have the greatest need of cash, but other options help me extend my “helping hand” further. Thanks for the suggestions.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jeanie. Yes, like you, I love when little things make a big difference in the world, and from empty prescription bottles, to helping families learn life skills they hadn’t learned before, there are so many worthy charities out there ready to help. It is hard to decide, but with all the different options it at least makes it easier for us to see ways we may not have thought about before. 🙂 Thanks so much!

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