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The Season of Giving

There are many ways to share what you have with those less fortunate.

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As Memphians, we have a lot to be proud of. We're a city of grit, determination, and strength, a city that's welcoming, selfless, and large-hearted. We excel at being in this thing together, for better or worse, and it's no different around the holidays. I've been thinking about some of the many ways we can give back to the city this month — through our actions, through sharing resources, or through giving time.

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So here, in no particular order, are a handful of local organizations that could use your help this holiday season. These are by no means all of them (as listing all of them could easily fill this whole issue). These are just a few of the many that are changing Memphis for the better that you may not know about.

It's terrifying and tough to be in the hospital with a sick kid. The Forrest Spence Fund provides assistance with the nonmedical needs (meaning: care baskets, counseling and grants for families with chronically ill kids) of families with critically and chronically ill children. They can always use donations, but if you'd like to do something more, you could knit a baby blanket, collect items for family baskets, or prepare a craft or activity for families at a monthly Le Bonheur and FedEx Family House dinner.

If you'd like to help out Memphis' four-legged friends, consider giving to the Streetdog Foundation. They're not a shelter, but they do rescue local stray dogs, rehabilitate them, and try to find them forever homes. The foundation is always looking for adoptive dog parents, but if that's not a good fit for you, you can always volunteer, foster a dog for as long as you're able, or donate cash or items from their wish list (like dog toys, tennis balls, crates, and treats).

For those of you who want to contribute to making Memphis a healthier city, check out Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop. The shop, which has been open since 2002, seeks to provide bicycles to Memphians in need, particularly the city's working poor, who hugely benefit from reliable transportation. Revolutions doesn't just hand people bicycles, they require them to build their own, and in the process, learn bike maintenance and safety. If you'd like to help, they need used bikes and bike parts. (Don't be shy — they'll take pretty much anything from the lovingly maintained to completely busted.)

You don't have to give "things" to make a difference. You can always give an experience. Volunteer Odyssey (VO)encourages people who are between jobs or just starting their careers to spend a full week volunteering with local charities. The benefit is twofold — organizations get dedicated volunteer hours, and young professionals get an experience that will help them grow and set them apart when they look for future work. During their volunteer odyssey, participants share their stories via blogs on the VO website. You can help out by volunteering a week (and writing about it) or donating some cash; it costs about $2,000 for the VO crew to provide each experience.

Speaking of giving experiences, Roots Memphis Farm Academy is a wonderful organization that teaches wannabe farmers how to sustainably grow their own food and run their businesses. Over the course of eight months, the Academy blends education (including writing a business plan and finance lessons) with incubation, allowing students to get practice runs at their farms before launching the real thing. If you'd like to help, you can give your favorite foodie the gift of a Roots Memphis CSA — a weekly share of the crops grown by student farmers.

Lastly, consider giving to the Mid-South Food Bank. I know it's not an under-the-radar sort of charity, but it's one that can use your help, especially right now when they're trying to provide holiday meals to hungry and food-insecure Memphians. They're in need of nonperishable food items (especially high-protein foods like peanut butter) and people to help in their office with everything from consulting to IT. They also accept monetary donations online. And, because of their food bank status, they can make every dollar stretch into three meals for a hungry local family.

If none of these organizations is your personal thing, there are dozens more that could use your help, however you can give it. Happy holidays, y'all.

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