Adventures of an Information Addict


Karyn Gerhard is a senior editor at Alpha Books and an information addict looking for an adventure. This blog documents her explorations into of all those dusty corners of human culture that no one has bothered to clean in years.

Today’s Obsession: Giving Back

We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.—Winston Churchill

Here it is, a week before Thanksgiving. Hard to believe almost an entire year has flown by! This time of year not only has me thinking about the big turkey day, but also about giving thanks—and giving back. It’s no surprise that volunteerism takes a big jump around this time of year, with people wanting to serve Thanksgiving meals at soup kitchens, donating coats to winter coat drives, and the like. Last week my sister’s company had a Give Back day, where they went to the local food bank and boxed up food to give away; and our company is about to launch its annual toy drive, where we can donate toys to kids for Christmas.

It got me to thinking about what I could do to give back. Like a lot of people, funds are tight this year, so donating money isn’t in the cards for me; but I found scads of opportunities that don’t involve money. If you’re interested in giving back this season (or, really, any time of year!), here are some great ways to do it.

Spread Your Holiday Cheer with a Visit

The Elderly

Visiting grandparents or elderly friends and neighbors is great, but there are many elderly people who don’t have anyone to visit them during the holidays. You can contact local retirement homes and ask them about volunteering; many places are looking for people to play cards, sing carols, do crafts, or just sit and visit with their patients. Sites such as have great opportunities at retirement homes and senior citizens’ centers.

The Hospital-Bound

The hospital can be a lonely place during the holidays, for the eldery but especially for the children. Try contacting your local hospital, children’s hospital, or hospice, and asking them about patients who could use a holiday visit. Or you can get a group of people together and go caroling through the halls to spread a little holiday cheer!

Spend Time with Furry Friends

Animals need love at the holidays, too! Shelters and other rescue facilities are always looking for helpers to spend time with homeless animals. The ASPCA can help you find a registered shelter in your area. is another great resource that not only can help you find a shelter, but also give you information on rescue groups, tips on working with shelter animals, and—if you’re in the market for a new pet—has thousands of listings for furry friends who are looking for homes.

Help Feed the Hungry

Soup kitchens around the country get a surge of people wanting to help dole out Thanksgiving Dinner—so many that volunteers are often turned away. But make no mistake, they still need your help!

Check with your local Food Banks—they are always looking for help. has a great Food Bank Locator. also has a great listing of pantries, kitchens, and banks that could use your help. My search at led me to packing food into boxes for distribution, stocking shelves in the pantry, helping research studies, and yes—even working in the soup kitchen.

Give to Our Men and Women in Uniform

I can only imagine that being a soldier overseas is rough enough, but being away from friends and family during the holidays has to be unbearable. I found literally dozens of organizations whose mission is to send troops much-needed supplies and messages of support. They send everything from paperback books to Kong balls for the dogs. And the letters of appreciation from the troops for these care packages are more moving than I can say.

I could fill this entire blog just with organizations for the troops, but for right now I’ll name just give two of my favorites.

Clean Out for a Good Cause

Purge your closets and help a charity at the same time—everybody wins! Here are some ways to donate the stuff in the Fibber McGee-type closet of yours.

Clothing and Housewares

You can always take your used clothes and houseware items to the local Goodwill store, but if you don’t have time to take them to a store, the Vietnam Veterans of America have a service that will pick up the donations at your house.

Workplace Attire

If it’s women’s business suits or workplace clothing you’re looking to donate, you can give them to Dress for Success, a fantastic charity that provides disadvantaged women with professional attire and helps them get jobs.

Old Cell Phones

Donating those old cell phones stuck in your junk drawer can save the environment—and a life. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has partnered with ReCellular to recycle and refurbish old cell phones, with part of the proceeds going to support NCADV’s fight to stop violence in the home. They’ll even give you a prepaid shipping label!

You can also donate your phone to help our men in uniform. Send your used phones to Cell Phones for Soldiers and they’ll sell them to a company to be recycled, and use the money to purchase calling cards for the troops overseas.

Collectibles and Everything Else

Were you planning to sell that neon Schlitz sign and the Howdy Doody doll from your childhood on eBay? How about donating those eBay auctions to charity? With the Ebay Giving Works Program, you can post an auction and donate 10% to 100% of the sale price to the charity of your choosing.

Use Your Time Online for Good

If your holiday season is crazier that a bag full of wet cats and going out to volunteer is out of the question, don’t worry—there are still ways you can give back. All it takes is a little of your idle online time and a few clicks of the mouse!

Play Games for Charity

Instead of playing Minesweeper, you can play a game that can help end world hunger, give support for at-risk kids, or help find a cure for breast cancer. It won’t cost you a cent, and may even make you smarter!

Donate with a Click

Donate Your Idle (Online) Time

This is one of the most amazing deals ever. At all you have to do is download a simple program, choose the charity you want to help, and that’s it. SuperDonate earns money by selling your idle computer time to companies involved in solving important research projects. The program (which they assure you will not slow down your computer) works behind the scenes whenever your computer is idle, solving a research problem an organization has given it. When SuperDonate answers the problem, the organization pays them, and that money goes to the charity you have chosen. How much easier can it get!

Shop and Give

If you’re doing online shopping for Christmas presents, why not turn it into a donation as well? At you can help your favorite charity every time you shop. Just choose your favorite cause, then shop at any of the 900 stores listed. Every time you buy an item, iGive will make a donation to your charity.

Finding More Opportunities

If none of the above floats your boat, or you just want to see what all is out there for volunteering, there are a couple of great sites that can help you in your search.

All right, it’s time to put the cookie down, and start planning what I’m going to do! Have a wonderful—and thankful!—holiday season!

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