My Favorite Charities

Donations (Photo credit: Matthew Burpee)

My day began when I received an unexpected email that immediately brought a smile to my face.   Amidst the spam and advertising emails that had arrived overnight, my inbox also included an email from Ms. M., our family’s adopted soldier who is serving overseas.  We found Ms. M. through an organization that matches donors with individual troops deployed outside of the United States.  The email inspired me to spread the word about this organization, as well as some of my other favorite charities, particularly those that have a direct impact on the lives of others.  What are some of your favorite charities?  I would love to hear about them. 

#1 Operation Shoebox

Operation Shoebox seeks to support troops deployed outside of the United States.  Supported by a network of approximately 1,300 volunteers, the organization facilitates the distribution of care packages, toys and school supplies for humanitarian efforts, and bulk shipments.  What I really love about Operation Shoebox is its Adopt-A-Troop program that connects donors with a specific individual serving in the U.S. armed forces overseas.  Donors are encouraged to send care packages to their assigned troop once a month, with periodic cards and letters sent as often as possible.

Rather than simply writing a check or making a donation online, the Adopt-A-Troop program requires an intentional thoughtfulness to the individual needs of our troops overseas.  The process of purchasing and assembling care package items allows me to reflect on the impact that our military involvement has on individual service members and their families, and to appreciate the sacrifice that they are making.  I also love the Adopt-a-Troop program because it provides a way for my children to be involved in the process by drawing pictures, writing letters, and picking out items to include in the care package.

Regardless of your personal opinion on U.S. military involvement, we can all agree that our troops make the ultimate sacrifice – risking their lives and safety, tearing themselves away from family and friends, and leaving their homes for an foreign location for months or years at a time.  For this, they deserve our support, respect, and gratitude.

You can sign up for Operation Shoebox’s Adopt-a-Troop program here.

#2 Chicago Scholars

Chicago Scholars is a Chicago-based organization that helps “marginalized high school students overcome the barriers to their collegiate access and success” by providing mentorship and advice.  The program seeks to help students get into college, graduate in four years, and transition into the appropriate career or graduate study.   Scholars for the program are selected during their junior year of high school and, beginning the summer before their senior year of high school, they are paired with a College Consultant Mentor, who assists them with the college application and admission process.  Scholars are also invited to participate in several workshops and networking sessions throughout the college application process.

Once a Scholar is attending college, the Scholars are paired with a Peer Mentor, who helps them navigate their way through the entire college experience.  The Scholars also obtain access to paid summer internship opportunities and are invited to participate in other career training activities.  The Chicago Scholars Foundation requires close interaction with its Scholars, through transcript submissions, survey completions, and volunteer participation, in order to monitor the success of the Scholar throughout the duration of the program and by proactively confronting any potential challenges.

If you would like more information on becoming a mentor, click here.  There also are several other ways to become involved, including acting as a career coach, reviewing applications, interviewing potential Scholars, providing internship opportunities, and making monetary donations.  For more information on how you can support Chicago Scholars, click here.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I first learned of Chicago Scholars a few years ago when my husband acted as one of the program’s College Consultant Mentors, and he now serves on the organization’s Board of Directors.)

#3 Local Food Banks and Homeless Shelters

Donating to local food banks is a wonderful way to support one’s community and make a direct impact in the lives of others.  Local food banks, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters often offer a variety of ways for individuals and families to donate that go beyond writing a check.  For instance, while I was living in Chicago, I prepared 30 bagged lunches on a monthly basis for the Lincoln Park Community Shelter.  This option offered a great deal of flexibility since I could prepare the lunches at home while my children were sleeping.

Many food banks offer similarly flexible volunteer opportunities and a wide range of donation alternatives.  Food banks and homeless shelters accept donations of food, clothing, and household items.  Volunteers are frequently needed in the evening and overnight hours to serve food, admit guests, prepare lunches for the next day, and monitor/clean the facilities.  For instance, in Chicago, the Night Ministry, seeks volunteers to serve a hot meal to youth and young adults from its Youth Outreach Van that moves throughout Chicago’s Lakeview and Rogers Park neighborhoods.  Many food banks also offer special volunteer and donation opportunities around the holidays.  For instance, a food bank in our suburban community accepts Thanksgiving gift baskets that are then distributed to local families in need.

You can find more information about food banks in your area by visiting,, or asking churches in your area whether they support a local food bank or soup kitchen.

#4 Holiday Heroes

I recently learned about this organization when it was spotlighted on a local news program.  Started by two teenage sisters, Heather and Haley Hagopian, Holiday Heroes spreads holiday cheer to hospitalized children by recreating holiday gatherings in the hospital or in their homes while on a break from treatment.  Holiday Heroes celebrates six holidays throughout the year – Valentine’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas or Hanukah – by distributing gift cards and autographed sports memorabilia to the children so that they can “forget about their worries for a while, and smile.”  Holiday Heroes also provides food donations to the families of sick children around the holidays.

The organization is supported by several current and former professional athletes, including former Chicago Cub Fergie Jenkins, who donate signed sports memorabilia to be given to the children.  Holiday Heroes hopes to raise additional funds through its Chicago Marathon Team, as well.  For more information on how you can support Holiday Heroes, visit their website at

What are some of your favorite charities?  I would love to hear about them. 

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