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Holiday Guide Gifts

Think Globally, Act Locally

A Few Ideas On Where to Share Your Good Intentions

Emily Flake

Holiday Guide 2001

Ho! Ho. Ho? 'Tis the season for mixed feelings. The joy of giving; the agony of shopping. The pleasure of gather...

Think Globally, Act Locally A Few Ideas On Where to Share Your Good Intentions

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Posted 11/14/2001

Somehow, it doesn't feel like buying a clutch purse or an X-Box is quite gonna be enough this year. As the annus horribilis of 2001 shambles to its end, as the leaves turn drab and blow away, as darkness falls before rush hour, it's harder than usual to turn inward to the old material comforts of the holiday season. The world is in ugly shape, and eggnog and balsam won't make things much more pleasant.

What can anyone do about it? Since September, people have been trying, desperately, to alleviate our national and international crises. Tom Hanks and Bon Jovi have gone on television to ask for money for victims of the New York attacks. People have given so much blood that the Red Cross, running out of fridge space, has started throwing away the excess. The Army is dropping government-issue Lunchables on Afghanistan.

But there is good being done right outside your door too. In the shadow of Big Events, we risk losing sight of the regular charitable work that goes on, which still needs support and assistance. Some is a matter of life and death; some a matter of quality of life. What follows is a selection of local charities that could stand a share of your blessings this year, should you feel the urge to help out on the close-to-home front.

Alley Animals
We tend to think of homelessness as an affliction only for those on two legs. But every night untold numbers of dogs and cats prowl Baltimore's streets, some born there, some abandoned, searching for sustenance and a warm, safe place to sleep. Six nights a week, regardless of weather, Alley Animals fans out all over the city, feeding thousands of starving creatures and rescuing those in direst need. The small agency also responds to emergency calls 24 hours a day and runs an adoption program. Yes, there is much human suffering in Baltimore, and you should donate to alleviate that too. But the next time your own beloved bundle of fur is curled up in your lap or at your feet, think about him or her forced to wander day and night, cold and hungry and alone. Then get out your checkbook. Alley Animals Inc., P.O. Box 27487, Towson, MD 21285-7487, (410) 823-0899, Heartland/Hills/8113.

Baltimore Reads
Despite what dozens of facile ad campaigns may say, reading is not, and never has been, cool. Writing, on the other hand, has always been, and remains, very cool (if usually not very lucrative). But to become a suave scribe, it does help to spend some time reading--a lot of time, in fact. Problem is, with Pratt branches closing and school libraries woefully understocked, thousands of Baltimore kids don't have much access to books. The folks at Baltimore Reads do, and since 1988 they've been providing books and reading instruction to impoverished children and underliterate adults. Help them spread the words with a gift of money, volunteer hours, or, natch, books. And wouldn't any writers on your list be thrilled to have a donation made in their name? Of course they would. Helping others become cool, after all, is pretty cool itself. Baltimore Reads, 5 E. Read St., Baltimore, MD 21202, (410) 752-3595,

The Caring Tree Fund
Still haunted by holiday memories involving disappointing gifts like socks and underwear? This one's a no-brainer: Send in some cash, make a kid's Christmas. Each Christmas, the Caring Tree Fund provides holiday gifts for latch-key kids in the after-school academy at Lafayette Square's St. James Episcopal Church--kids who would be thrilled just to get some new clothes for Christmas, let alone something fun like a toy or game. Caring Tree puts together gift packages, starting with necessities, for every child chosen. Think about how little it would cost you to give socks and underwear to a deserving city boy or girl--then think about how much it would cost to give that child a complete Christmas, and give more. But do it now--there's shopping to be done. And of course, the folks at St. James would love to see you on Sunday. The Caring Tree Fund, St. James Episcopal Church, 1020 W. Lafayette Ave., Baltimore, MD 21217, (410) 523-4588.

Community Law Center
You don't hear much about the work the Community Law Center does day in and day out, but then, that's sort of the point. Billing itself as the "only legal services organization dedicated solely to strengthening City neighborhoods," this group of lawyers, paralegals, and activist types sees itself more as facilitator than out-front doer. Its clients are community organizations that represent low-income urban neighborhoods in the fight against crime, grime, and neglect, and the bulk of its work entails aiding these groups in setting priorities and executing strategies toward better economic viability and quality of life. CLC attorneys are also known to initiate litigation on communities' behalf, and to help pen city and state policies that affect neighborhoods. Most recently they've led the effort to combat the predatory-lending schemes that have decimated much of Baltimore's housing market. As they celebrate their 15th anniversary this year, why not help them--and Baltimore's neighborhoods--celebrate the quiet, vital work they do? Community Law Center, 2500 Maryland Ave., Baltimore, MD 21218, (410) 366-0922,

Great Blacks in Wax Museum
Launched 21 years ago with just four wax figures the proprietors wheeled around to shopping malls and church basements, the Great Blacks in Wax Museum now has more than 100 waxworks housed in nearly 30,000 square feet of exhibition space. Along the way this museum-that-could has helped tens of thousands of folks come literally face-to-face with African-American history. (The painstaking re-creation of 19th-century slave ship is but one highlight of museum's historical lessons.) You can give the gift of knowledge, while helping Great Blacks' ongoing expansion plans, by handing out annual museum memberships, which provide free members' tours, invitations to special events, gift-shop discounts, and more. There are a number of membership options, including $20 for students, $40 for two seniors, and $50 for a family of four (two adults and two children under 16). Great Blacks in Wax Museum, 1601-03 E. North Ave., Baltimore, MD 21213, (410) 563-3404,

Health Care for the Homeless" Art Expression Group
To most Baltimoreans, "visionary art" is what you see at a funky museum in Federal Hill. But what the museum defines as work fueled by "inner voices of the soul" spills far beyond those curved Key Highway walls, some of it produced by artists who lack not only degrees and studios but roofs over their heads. Health Care of the Homeless (HCH) has long provided social services to Baltimore's homeless; since 1995 it has offered them an artistic outlet as well. The Art Expression Group was launched on a hunch that clients would benefit from a chance to communicate their stories and ideas via paint and pencil. Much of their work, from rudimentary sketches to detailed oils, sculptures, and large installations, has adorned public spaces citywide. But because they're all but penniless and HCH is a tight-budgeted nonprofit, these artists rely wholly on materials they find on the street, or receive via donation. This holiday season, help HCH deck Baltimore's halls with a gift of money or supplies. Health Care for the Homeless, 111 Park Ave., Baltimore, MD 21201, (410) 837-5533,

Jones Falls Watershed Association
In the 17th century, when David Jones settled alongside the river that bears his name, the Jones Falls was described as a "clear and sparkling stream, with great trees on its banks." In 1976, the city declared it a sewer. Through generations of heavy industry and official neglect, the river that bisects Baltimore had become better known as a highway than a waterway. The Jones Falls Watershed Association, founded in 1997 as an offshoot of the Greater Homewood Community Corp., works overtime to restore the fouled river's health, removing tons of trash, planting hundreds of trees and shrubs, and helping craft an environmentally sensitive development plan for the area, among other activities. If anyone on your list cares deeply about beautifying Baltimore, get them a $30 membership--and show that there's more than one way to spread some green for the holidays. Jones Falls Watershed Association, 3501 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218, (410) 261-3515,

Light of Truth Center
When you bottom out, the saying goes, there's no place to go except up. But if you are recovering from drug or alcohol addiction, the climb can be awfully steep. At the Light of Truth Center, a nonprofit recovery house for women in West Baltimore's North Penn neighborhood, residents on the comeback trail are in need of everything from clothing to the most basic toiletries. Make a donation in the name of a friend or loved one--or make a gift to the center itself, which regularly needs household items (coffee maker, toaster, dishes, cleaning supplies, linens, pillows, you name it). A computer would also come in handy, if you can afford more generous giving--the residents are strongly encouraged to find jobs and otherwise work toward "reclaiming" a healthy lifestyle. Light of Truth Center, 1736 Payson St., Baltimore, MD 21217, (410) 496-5862,

Maryland Ravens
Forget about making any comparisons between the Maryland (nee Baltimore) Ravens and the carpetbagging NFL franchise that infringed on their trademark. Think Harlem Globetrotters: For more than a quarter century, the Ravens have been coming out to gyms in the region to show off athletic feats that the general public can't do--in this case, feats involving a basketball, a hoop, and five wheelchairs. Book them to visit your school or club, either for a game against another National Wheelchair Basketball Association foe or a fund-raising exhibition against your own people--who will learn, quickly, that it's not so easy to hoop when you're sitting down. Or, if you'd prefer, their National Wheelchair Softball Association team can smack your team around the diamond. Or you can just make a contribution, to underwrite the Ravens' Disability Awareness Program visits to schoolkids or support their sports activities. Maryland Ravens Inc., 829 D Windstream Way, Edgewood, MD 21040, (410) 679-9264,

Shepherd"s Clinic
For 10 years, the Shepherd's Clinic has been dispensing basic health care to people who have no insurance. It helps people manage high blood pressure, diabetes, and other common problems that, if neglected, make emergency-room visits inevitable--and does so with a unique rate policy of basing the cost of an office visit on what a patient makes per hour. Often, that means providing professional care for minimum wage. A private organization that receives no government funding, the clinic relies on donations (especially valuable for offsetting the cost of prescription drugs), grants, and the generosity of the more than 40 doctors and nurses who rotate volunteer shifts there. Give the gift of good health to folks for whom it is often hard to come by, with a contribution of money or time--the clinic always needs medical or clerical volunteers. Shepherd's Clinic, 1901 St. Paul St., Baltimore, MD 21218, (410) 385-1308,

Students Sharing Coalition
Whether they are preparing spaghetti dinners for the homeless, throwing their annual Shelter Christmas Party, or traveling to Annapolis to lobby state legislators to fund social-service programs, the kids who belong to the Students Sharing Coalition are determined to make a difference. When she founded the coalition in 1993, anti-poverty activist Linda Kohler wanted to provide an educational opportunity for teens who were facing a requirement that they complete 75 hours of community service to graduate from high school. Students Sharing is designed to not just help them achieve that goal, but to give them experiences they can draw on to continue effecting social change as adults and voters. Donations help the coalition with its ongoing shelter and soup-kitchen programs--and a little volunteering wouldn't hurt either, especially during the busy holiday season. Students Sharing Coalition, 2418 St. Paul St., Baltimore, MD 21218, (410) 662-8999,

Sylvan Beach Café
How can you support a worthwhile cause and still give your loved one something more tangible than the warm fuzzies? Try a gift certificate for Sylvan Beach Café. The 2-year-old Mount Vernon restaurant has a dual mission--to serve the buying public's coffee and ice-cream needs while providing GED classes, a home, and employment for 18- to 23-year-old high-school dropouts. The café is a warm and inviting space, filled with books and earnest writers, and the food is top-notch. Besides the homemade ice cream (in flavors that range from a straight vanilla to an exotic chocolate-ginger) and delicious coffee (available by the cup or by the pound), Sylvan Beach offers breakfast pastries and a selection of lunch sandwiches. Give a gift certificate of any dollar amount, and your recipient can choose to sip or scoop, eat in or take out. And you can enjoy the warm fuzzies. Sylvan Beach Café, 7 W. Preston St., (410) 685-5752.

Turnaround Inc.
You can tick off the horrifying statistics like the hands of a clock: In the United States a woman is abused every 15 seconds, 1.3 women are raped every minute, and a child is molested every two minutes. Not exactly the stuff of holiday cheer--but that's where Turnaround Inc. comes in. With three area locations, a 24-hour hotline, and a myriad of services, Turnaround provides amazingly thorough care for the victims of these crimes: an emergency shelter, hospital accompaniment, counseling, legal assistance, self-defense classes, educational outreach, even a program to help people escape domestic violence without having to fear for their feline and canine companions. And Turnaround has almost as many ways for you to lend support. Train to be a volunteer staffer, provide foster care for an animal, help out at the office, participate in their holiday drive, or just make a fat donation. Because for too many women and children, not getting what they wanted for Christmas is far from the worst thing that happens this time of year. Turnaround Inc.; 330 N. Charles St., Suite 300, Baltimore, (410) 837-7000; 6229 N. Charles St., Towson, (410) 377-8111; 9100 Franklin Square Drive, Room 317, Essex, (410) 391-2396;

Viva House
For almost 35 years, Viva House has been fighting the good fight against hunger, injustice, and war from its home in Southwest Baltimore. Run by members of the Catholic Worker movement, Viva House operates a soup kitchen that serves hundreds of meals a day and a vibrant after-school tutoring program for neighborhood children (which turns into a summer camp when the weather turns warm). But that just scratches the surface of what Viva House does to help make Baltimore--and the world--a better place, and of what you can do to help make Viva House stronger. Financial donations are welcome and much-needed, but so are soup-kitchen helpers, tutors, and volunteers for the annual holiday grocery drive (which winds up Dec. 21). Or do a little baking for the monthly lasagna feasts. Viva House, 26 S Mount St., Baltimore, MD 21223; (410) 233-0488.

Still want to give? Consult the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations,, for more worthy causes.

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The 2009 City Paper Holiday Guide

The Gifts That Count (11/18/2009)
The presents that have stayed in our writers' thoughts

The Wish List (11/18/2009)
Gifts we wish we could afford

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