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Disasters: What can you do to help?

Tornado

Last week, several areas of Missouri, including the area of the school where I teach, were hit badly by a tornado. There were many families whose homes were severely damaged and many who were displaced. I can’t imagine the stress and hardship these families are going through. It is during times like these that we count our blessings and are grateful for small and big things.

Thankfully there has been a tremendous outpouring of support from our school district staff and the community to help these families. It is amazing all the efforts that have been launched, from collecting donations of items and money, to providing meals and shelter, to helping clear the debris, to providing information on resources and aid.

With our technological age, it is much easier to distribute information regarding volunteer opportunities and assistance available.And for those families in the area who didn’t have access, volunteers canvassed to get them that information. For those of you who want to help, it isn’t always easy to know what website or place to go to for ways to help. Here is a short guide to lending a hand in natural disaster relief.

∞ Check the local school district’s website and Facebook page. They will often have information on how to help or how to get help.

∞ Check the local newspaper’s website for current news, links to organizations, and more.

patch logo∞ Check out Patch.com, a new community-oriented news source. On this main page, you can search for the website for your local area. They had great coverage of the local tornado and links to many local organizations providing aid and resources.

amer red cross logoAmerican Red Cross – Although most known for its blood drive efforts, the American Red Cross helps with disaster response, too. To find out more, click here.

salv army logoSalvation Army – Search the Volunteer Match website to be linked with Salvation Army volunteer opportunities. You can also donate money, household items, or clothing to help those in need. To learn more about Salvation Army’s variety of disaster services and efforts, click here.

united way logo 2 United WayVolunteer to help the many efforts of the United Way. You can learn more about general opportunities, take the pledge to join, and see local opportunities. You can also go to your local United Way website and view a volunteer calendar with specific events in your area.

* Please note: All of these organizations also gladly accept monetary donations, if you are not able to give time or resources.

Related posts:

 

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Scheduling visits and meals for others made easier!

Freezer Meals

One of the biggest timesavers for me when my dad was in the hospital was to create a CarePages website for him. I was able to post updates on how he was doing and then send them to anyone who wanted information. It was much easier than making a million phone calls a day, especially since I had other things to take care of for my father. The site would send an update email to anyone on my invite list and they could then logon to see the update. I have friends who have set up this type of website either for themselves or for friends suffering from a serious illness.

I particularly like this site because people can also send you messages and you can add photos. When I was pregnant with my triplets, this site was invaluable for letting people know how the babies and I were doing. It was also fun to post pictures of me growing!

CarePages, as well as many similar care coordination websites, has different settings to set up privacy settings. You can set your page up so that only those you invite can participate and logon, your page can be public, or you can choose something in-between. You can also connect with other people going through similar issues.

Another aspect of helping those dealing with illness, pregnancy, etc. is lining up meals, volunteers, errands, etc. One of my friends used Lotsa Helping Hands for a friend of hers who was battling cancer. I also set up a page on there for my father, so that we could make sure he would have visitors when he began rehab. I like that this website lets you set up a variety of tasks that people can help with, not just bringing meals. It also sends reminders to anyone who signs up to do a task/job. Like CarePages, you can also post announcements/updates and photos. This is a feature that I was not aware of, otherwise I would have used just this site alone to post everything for my father!

Other similar websites include:

All of these care coordination websites are great because they:

  • Are free.
  • Allow you to get in touch with many people in a short-time. They saves everyone time (no matter if you are the subject of the site or the person coordinating care, visits, meals, etc.). This can be a big help if you are a coordinator of meals for your temple or church.
  • Work for births, illness or injuries, bereavement, etc.
  • Allow family, loved ones, friends, and others to send support and encouragement to the person in need.
  • Often can direct you to support groups, information, and other pages set up by people with similar needs.
  • Link with Facebook and other social networking programs.

Related posts on doing good for others:

If you have used any of these sites and have reviews or tips, please share in the Comments section!

 

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Gratitude is always cheap!

We have been so fortunate that during our tough times since becoming parents (two pregnancy bedrests, hospital stays for me before all our boys were born and for them many weeks after, and the challenges of being parents to newborn triplets) to be the recipients of much support, meals, volunteers, and gifts for us and our little ones. We are now going through a tough time as my husband was recently laid off from his job of 15 years.

I am constantly amazed by our family’s, friends’ and community members’ generosity and thoughtfulness. I do not know what we would have done and do now without their help and support.

I am not the best at keeping up with it, but have tried over the years to always be thankful to those who have helped us. Before my triplets were born I was determined to catch up on the thank you notes from my older son’s birth. This year I finally caught up on all the notes from when my triplets were born to the present. I am now doing a much better job at keeping up. People may think I am crazy to send a thank you note so late, but I feel it is important. I do not want anyone to ever think I take their help or gift for granted or don’t appreciate it.

After my older son was born, I created a form to keep track of all the thank you notes I had to write. Here it is if you want to use it for yourself!

Thank yous to write form

As I was working on some cards yesterday, I thought about how gratitude is really such a cheap thing to give. I thought I would highlight some very inexpensive ways to show your thankfulness to others — the most important being a good old-fashioned handwritten thank you note!

My favorite places to buy thank you cards or blank notecards are:

∞ Target – They sell a large box of 50 cards for $10.99 that end up being about $.22/card. Their 24-count Green Room cards for $5.99 come out to $.25/card. This past weekend I also found Mary Engelbreit notecards in the dollar section. They had 8 cards for $1 each. That is only $.13/card!

Michaels – In front of the registers, they sell packs of 8 cards for $1 each. That is also only $.13/card.

Free card offers – There are many online card stores popping up now. They allow you to choose your design, personalize the message and various features, and even add photographs. Check out Kosher on a Budget for the latest deals. Some of my favorite card sites include Cardstore.com and Ink Garden.

Donate to nonprofits – We are on the mailing lists of various non-profits that we have given to over the years. Some send address labels, notepads, or notecards as a gift to encourage you to donate to their charity.

Photo collage card – My friend Lori came up with this idea. She uses Google Picasa photo software (a free photo storage software) to make a collage for a particular occasion. She personalizes each 4 x 6 collage to have photos from that occasion that feature or relate to the person she is thanking. She then adds a message right on the card/photo. You then save your new collage and upload it to whatever photo printing website you use. The cost is whatever that site charges per print. These become a one-of-a-kind thank you card. All you need is an envelope and a stamp!

∞ Photo cards - For my triplets’ birthday thank you notes, I made a photo card on a photo sharing website (like the kind people send out for holidays). Many of them offer various themes, colors, number of photos, etc., so you can send them any time of year for any occasion. I took advantage of a free 10 cards offer one site had and only had to pay shipping! The price on these cards will vary based on the size and whether you are choosing photo paper or cardstock. The photo cards normally are cheaper.

Other ways to show your thanks:

Some of these may seem trite, but think about how it would bring a smile to your own day to receive one of these!

Send an email.

Recommend a friend’s business to others.

Patronize a friend’s business by either buying a product from them or using their service.

Post a comment to Facebook and recognize someone in it.

Make a comment on someone’s Facebook post to show appreciation for something they have shared.

Make a comment on someone’s blog or website to give a compliment or response.

Send an email to an organization, school, shul/church, or business expressing thanks for a particular program they sponsored, speaker they brought in, or product they offer. All too often we forget to tell people/groups when we like things they have done. Compliments and comments are so much better than just complaints!

Remember your doctors, hairdressers, repairmen, postal workers, service providers, etc. when you are sending out holiday cards.

Make extra food and give it to a family member, friend, or neighbor.

Add someone to your shaloch manos list who may not otherwise get one.

Call the supervisor of an employee who gives you good service.

Leave a note in a colleague’s mailbox at work (and maybe include a small treat).

Challenge yourself to express gratitude to someone each day!

 

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What are you doing for Earth Day?

The Earth flag is not an official flag, since ...

Earth Day is April 22 and cities around the world are sponsoring volunteer efforts, fairs, festivals, and speakers. To find out what is going on in your town, here are a few resources. If you cannot find a listing for your town, you may need to do a Google search for your city and “Earth Day.”

Earth Day Network:

This organization “works with over 22,000 partners in 192 countries to broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement.” You can search for events in your area, find actions you can take, and more.

Environmental Protection Agency’s Earth Day website:

Includes search tool to find EPA events in your area, a video, pledges and actions to take, a Greenquest game, and a daily email list with tips.

St. Louis Earth Day:

If you live here in St. Louis, check out all the events and resources on the St. Louis Earth Day website. Note that at the Recycling Extravaganza you can recycle medicines, as I mentioned in my post “Recycle your unused medicines.”

* If you haven’t already begun to take small actions to protect our Earth, see my post “Countdown to Earth Day.”

Related articles:

 

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Give your old shoes a new life

What do you do with those shoes that cannot be repaired or donated for someone else to use? Here are a few ideas to give your old shoes a new purpose in life! 

For shoes that can be worn again:

Give them to a friend or community member. We have been fortunate to get hand-me-down shoes from several people. We appreciate them so much!

Good Will or Salvation Army – Find the nearest drop off site and drop off these and other items.

UsAgain – Donate your used clothing, shoes, and household textiles to these bins that can often be found at local recycling centers and schools. Check their website for locations. The items are then distributed and sold around the world.

Soles4Souls – this program distributes shoes to needy people, including victims of natural disasters. They have given shoes to people in more than 127 countries.

Share your souls – This is another program that donates shoes to impoverished people all over the world.

For shoes that CANNOT be repaired or worn again:

Nike Reuse-a-Shoe – I have mentioned this program before. They take old athletic shoes and turn them into various athletic surfaces.

Donating your old shoes to a good cause does not directly save you money. However, it does help you declutter in a meaningful way. It also helps you work on developing habits of living with only what you need and thinking of others. For more information on decluttering and donating, see my post “Declutter responsibly.”

 

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Finding a home for used stuffed animals

Different types of stuffed toys

In my preparations for the holidays, I have been trying to declutter at home. Not that I don’t always declutter… but with new Chanukah toys coming in the house, I want to get rid of some old items. The question always comes up, though, what do you do with used stuffed animals that your kids don’t want anymore?

Thank goodness for internet search engines. I found my answer.

SAFE, Stuffed Animals for Emergencies, will take them and donate them to kids in distress. What a great cause! Click on the name above for the link with more information. They have 41 chapters throughout the United States. If there is not one near you, you can mail your donations to a chapter.

Happy Chanukah and good luck with your decluttering!

 
 

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Holiday gifts, Part 4 — Gifts that support charities

If you are still looking for that perfect gift, why not choose something that also gives back to charity. Here are some great articles to help you with your choice:

“Holiday Gifts That Give Back” from Real Simple. 

“11 Holiday Gift Programs That Benefit Nonprofits and Make the World A Better Place: 2011 Edition” 

“Gifts that Give Back” from Oprah Magazine.

Gifts that Give – this site gives $1 out of every $5 purchase to the charity of your choice

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2011 in Family ideas, Holidays

 

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Holiday gifts, Part 2 — More ideas

In continuation of my series on finding holiday gifts for loved ones, I would like to direct you to several great sources for ideas: 

Unique ideas:

“Clutter Free Gift Ideas” from Flylady.

“8 Unexpected Gift Card Ideas” from Real Simple magazine.

“Best Books to Give Gifts” from Real Simple magazine.

“63 Gift Ideas for Under $10 – For Any Occasion of the Year” from Living a Better Life.

“Guerrilla Guide to the Holidays: A Perfect, Price-Tag Free Gift List” from LearnVest.

“7 Gift-Giving Trends That Don’t Break the Bank” from LearnVest.

For anyone:

“Guerrilla Guide to the Holidays: Gifts for Everyone on Your List” from LearnVest.

“Guerilla Guide to the Holidays: Gifts for Everyone on your list, Part 2” from LearnVest.

For kids:

“Guerrilla Guide to the Holidays: Budget-Friendly Gifts For Kids” from LearnVest.

“Guerrilla Guide to the Holidays: Budget-Friendly Gifts For Kids, Part 2” from LearnVest.

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2011 in Family ideas, Holidays

 

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To save or not to save?

I always feel like I need to save every receipt and piece of monetary paperwork. However, then I get behind on all of my filing! I have so many piles waiting to be added to the filing cabinet. So what exactly do you need to save? I have compiled some tips from a few sites to answer this question.

* Note: Be sure to shred or tear up any documents when you do get rid of them to avoid identity theft.

Receipts: Save receipts for any items you plan to itemize on your taxes as well as items that you might need to return. I personally save all my receipts for the current year and the past year. I keep them by type and month in envelopes (monthly, irregular, grocery, and other bills). When I have accumulated two years of receipts, I purge the monthly and grocery receipts from the oldest year. I save any irregular receipts just in case I need to return or repair something at a later date. You might need those receipts also for proving purchases for warranties or upgrade options for getting reimbursed for lost luggage.

It is important to have some system to track your spending with your receipts and to reconcile your receipts with your bank statements and credit card statements. This will make budgeting, saving money, tax preparation, and meeting with a financial advisor much easier. See my post on “Make your checkbook digital!

Receipts, warranties and instruction booklets for major household appliances and electronics: Keep these until you no longer own an item. You only need to save the warranty information until the period it covers has passed.

Bank records: You need to reconcile your monthly bank statements with your receipts and deposits. Save them until your taxes for that year are done and you have pulled out any statements you need to prove any deductions. Shred the rest.

Pay stubs: You only need the current year’s stubs until you have reconciled them with your annual W-2 form.

Credit-card bills: For the most part you don’t need to keep these after you have checked and paid them. It is a good idea to keep them for at least two statement periods to make sure you are not double-charged for something. However, save any that include items you will be using for tax deductions (i.e. charitable donations). Also keep any statements that have an item that is under warranty. Save the bill until your warranty expiration date. You may need it if your item needs a repair.

Explanation of Benefits: If you are in the middle of a major medical issue, save them. Once your insurance has covered all the charges, there is no need to save them. However, you might want to save them until the end of the year to keep track of your deductible and to use for tax purposes.

Insurance policies: Keep descriptions of your policies that you renew each year (home, apartment, car, etc.). Keep the paperwork until you get a new policy.

Life-insurance policies: Hold onto permanent life insurance policy documents (from policies that have a cash value or investment component) in your safe-deposit box indefinitely. If you have a term life policy, hold the documents until the term is over, and then get rid of them.

Loan documents: Save your closing documents, titles and registration information for your mortgage, vehicle, student loans, and other loans in your safe-deposit box. After your loan is paid off, you can get rid of them. Keep your vehicle and home maintenance and repair records in your home files.

Investment statements: You really only need to keep your monthly and quarterly statements from brokerage, 401(k), IRA, Keogh and other investment accounts until the new statements arrive. Keep your annual statements as long as you own those investments (make sure the cost basis and holding period are noted on them). Then store them with that year’s tax records.

Mutual and index fund prospectuses: You do not need to save these after you have looked at them.

Savings bonds: Keep these in a safe-deposit box or other safe place until you cash them in. You can also convert them to electronic form using the Treasury’s SmartExchange program, at http://www.treasurydirect.gov.

Tax documents: Save your federal and state returns and all the accompanying documents for seven years, in case you are audited. You can also save the pdf of your completed return if you did them on a software program. You may want to save the tax returns for longer than seven years by scanning them and saving them on CD or an external hard drive.

Birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, Social Security cards, and military discharge papers: Save all of these in a safe-deposit box indefinitely. Other documents to hold on forever include: defined-benefit plan documents from current and former employers (pensions),

Estate-planning documents: Wills, trusts, and powers of attorney are other documents to keep in your safe-deposit box indefinitely. Your lawyer and executor should also have copies. Your primary care doctor and anyone you grant authority to make decisions on your behalf should have copies of your health-care proxy.

Safe-deposit box inventory: It is a good idea to keep a record of the location of the box and your keys. Also create a list of what you have in the box. Update the list once a year or as you add or remove documents. Keep photocopies at home of any documents you have stored in the box in case you need to refer to them.

Sources:
- Declutter Your Life: Which Receipts To Save From Your Filing Cabinet from LearnVest.
Receipts: 5 Reasons to Save Them from CESI Debt Solutions.
Conquer the paper piles: What documents to keep, what you can toss—and when from Consumer Reports.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Forms for everything, Other savings tips

 

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Don’t throw out your expired coupons!

Morningstar Farms Coupon

Did you know that military families can use expired coupons for 6 months after their expiration at commissaries overseas? Thanks to a program called “Coups for Troups” you can put your expired coupons to good use. You can either adopt a family or send your expired coupons to one of their satellite centers. For more information, check out Coups for Troops.

For other ways to help military families, check out the following article “11 Ways to Help Veterans on 11/11/11″ that was published in Parade Magazine for Veterans Day.

Thanks to Michelle Gralnick for sending me this article! For information on organizing your coupons, check out my post “Organizing Coupons.

 

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