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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.

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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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Tax time tip: Values of donations

Tax

Taxes are due very soon and I definitely need to get started on mine. I don’t do them myself (I worry I would miss something), but there are still a lot of things to gather, print, call for, etc. I don’t want to forget things from year to year, so of course I created several checklists. The first is my (Tax checklist form) which lists all the things I need to do for tax preparation each year. Feel free to edit it for your family’s needs and the money management software you use.

Another great resource is a Valuation Guide. This tells approximate values for things you might donate to Good Will or the Salvation Army. By recording this information you can take an honest deduction based on what you have donated. I have a Donations to Goodwill chart that I record on each time I make a drop-off at one of these types of sites. I record the item type, name, quantity and estimated value. I then total the values at the bottom. When it is tax time, I add all of these forms up to determine the total value of my non-cash donations for the year on my Total for nonmonetary donations for the year form.

Here are all three forms to make your tax preparation easier:

Tax checklist form

Valuation Guide

Donations to Goodwill chart

Total for nonmonetary donations for the year

For more helpful tips on doing your taxes (either on your own or through an accountant), check out these related articles: 

 
 

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Spring cleaning for a good cause

Different types of stuffed toys

As much as I know it adds to my cleaning time, I cannot help but spring clean/declutter when I am cleaning for Pesach. It makes me feel good to get rid of things in our home that we no longer need or use. I just cannot throw things away if they might be able to be used or recycled, though! For those of you like me, I wanted to refer you to some older posts with information on putting your unwanted items to use for others (or repairing or recycling them if appropriate).

Happy decluttering and Pesach cleaning!

 

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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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