DEAR READERS: I love the holiday season. For me, Christmas is a celebration of possibilities accompanied by an explosion of generosity.
Every year I publish a column devoted to spreading the spirit of giving. My recommendations are subjective and reflect my own interests and passions; additionally, this year I will try to shine a light on some smaller or lesser-known charities recommended by readers on my Facebook page.
I encourage readers to contribute according to their own interests and to research prospective charities, as I do, using charitynavigator.org.
This year, like many readers I'm also "going local." This might mean contributing to a local food bank or after-school arts program. It also should mean committing to being a good neighbor. I'd like to inspire readers to take good care of one another, this season and beyond.
Providing food assistance: Feeding America (feedingamerica.org) is a national network of food banks that last year provided food for more than 25 million low-income people, including 9 million children and 3 million seniors. Chances are, your local food bank is part of the Feeding America network. Donors can provide two weeks' worth of meals to a family for $21.
Providing disaster relief: Hurricane Sandy blew through the New York City area, plunging thousands of people into cold and darkness. During times of national and natural disasters, the American Red Cross (redcross.org) is there, supporting local services and providing food and emergency shelter. The organization now offers much needed help to military families.
Serving our military: I am honored each year to highlight the work of the Fisher House Foundation (fisherhouse.org), which provides comfortable and pleasant temporary housing to families of wounded soldiers while they receive treatment and rehabilitation at military medical centers. Having family nearby promotes healing.
The mission of the USO (uso.org) hasn't changed much since Betty Grable and Bob Hope performed for troops during WWII, but the organization's outreach is as necessary as it ever was. Service members and their families visit USO centers more than 6.9 million times each year. Services include free Internet and email access, libraries and reading rooms, housing assistance, family crisis counseling, support groups, game rooms and nursery facilities.
Wounded service members returning home have serious needs that extend beyond their medical recovery. Homes for our Troops (homesforourtroops.org) has a simple and vital mission: It builds specially adapted houses for disabled service members so they can live independently in their hometowns.
International: Doctors Without Borders (doctorswithoutborders.org) sends medical teams to war zones that others have fled, providing urgent medical care to victims of conflict.
Refugees International (refugeesinternational.org) advocates for people who have no voice: refugees displaced by catastrophe or conflict. The organization conducts field missions each year to gather firsthand evidence and then does the hard work of advocacy.
Heifer International makes giving fun and easy, and the proceeds go to people who are eager for a "hand up." View its inventive gift catalog at heifer.org.
Helping children: Save the Children (savethechildren.org) works in 50 countries around the world, including the United States. This established charity is a leader in serving the needs of children and their families.
The Blinknow Foundation was founded by New Jersey native Maggie Doyne when she was barely out of high school. Now this remarkable young woman is housing, feeding and educating 300 orphans in Nepal at the Kopila Valley Children's Home and School. For inspiration and to donate, check blinknow.org.
Cradles to Crayons provides new or nearly new children's items to kids living in poverty. It runs warehouses staffed by 1,000 volunteers who sort and distribute necessities through social service agencies in Boston and Philadelphia. Check cradlestocrayons.org to donate supplies and money.
The Hetrick-Martin Institute (hmi.org) was founded by a New York psychiatrist and a professor who were appalled by the plight of gay youths who had nowhere to turn for answers, kindness and hope. This established charity provides after-school programs, assistance and counseling services.
Animals: I support my local SPCA through donations and adoption. And because I'm a cat owner, I also support the American Bird Conservancy (abcbirds.org), which works to preserve habitat for native, wild and rare bird species.