Here we are, five years into the reign of "compassionate conservatism." And weren't those big, fat tax breaks supposed to swell all our wallets to the point of bursting at the mere faint ringing of the Salvation Army collector's bell?
But after years of falling wages, a string of devastating tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes, not to mention years of propping up the post-9/11 economy by doing our patriotic duty at the shopping malls, a lot of us are stuffing every last spare penny under the mattress in anticipation of $400 heating bills this winter. And let's be honest, we've redefined as "needs" many things our grandparents would have considered luxuries (if not sci-fi fantasies).
Point being, even if your sparkly new iPod nano is partly to blame, you're broke. But you've still got a bad case of that avian holiday-giving spirit. Not to worry: CL is here with a treeful of ways you can give on an empty wallet. There are some great Atlanta organizations that could use your help, but because we know a lot of you are all about sticking it to the man, we've also included some ideas for 100 percent bureaucracy-free giving.
Feed the Hungry
The Atlanta Community Food Bank (404-892-3333, ext. 1242; www.acfb.org) distributes food through several partner organizations such as Hosea Feed the Hungry & Homeless (404-755-3353, www.hoseafeedthehungry.com), which always needs servers. Or you can work directly for the Food Bank, sorting and packaging donated food and other supplies.
Alternative: Make an extra sandwich in the morning. Give it to the first homeless person you see. That probably violates some kind of health code, but you don't play by their rules!
Shelter from the Storm
Blame it on global warming or "cyclical variations," but it looks like we're in for some bad hurricane seasons in the years ahead. Get trained to staff the shelters after the next big disaster by attending disaster preparedness and response classes at the Red Cross (404-575-3730, www.atlantaredcross.org). While you're there, give some blood!
Alternative: Have an extra room? Host a Gulf Coast refugee. Operation: Share Your Home (888-827-2525, www.shareyourhome.org) will match you with someone in need of housing.
A Walk in the Woods
Hike and help at the same time by volunteering to help clean or maintain trails at your favorite parks. Check out Park Pride (404-817-6761, www.parkpride.org) for opportunities in city parks, or contact one of the volunteer organizations dedicated to specific parks such as Friends of Sweetwater Creek (770-942-2555, friendsofsweetwatercreek.org); Piedmont Park Conservancy (404-875-7275, www.piedmontpark.org); or Grant Park Conservancy (404-521-0938, www.gpconservancy.org).
Alternative: You can just clean as you go: We promise the park police won't arrest you for picking up trail trash without a license.
Can You Read This?
There are a hundred -- make that 400 -- reasons you should volunteer with Hands on Atlanta (404-979-2800, www.handsonatlanta.org), which serves as a clearinghouse for more than 400 area organizations and schools in need of volunteers. One of the organization's pet projects is Reading Adds Up, which provides reading tutors for one-on-one sessions with students reading below grade level. They also offer a math tutoring program.
Alternative: Read it and they will come: The tight-lipped will think you mad, but bring a book to a park and just start reading aloud.
Like to Teach the World to Sing?
The Southwest Arts Center (404-505-3220, www.fultonarts.org) provides community arts instruction and other programs to enrich the artistic lives of children and adults in southwest Fulton County. If you can work a video camera, paint, sing, play an instrument, write an article for the newsletter ... whatever your skill, they'll find a way to put it to use.
Alternative: Sit out on your stoop or in a local park playing bongos, sculpting with clay, or doing whatever artsy thing you do well. Bring extra equipment and materials. If some kids come by and look curious, invite them to join in.
In the weeks leading up to the holidays, animal shelters like the Atlanta Humane Society (404-875-2600, ext. 227; www.atlantahumane.org) and PAWS Atlanta (770-593-1155, www.pawsatlanta.org) see a rush of people wanting to adopt pets for that ultimate Christmas morning surprise ... followed in January by a rush of returned pets. Help out in the kennels or offices, or work with the Humane Society's pet-facilitated therapy program, which uses animals as part of physical, mental and emotional recovery. Volunteer orientation is Dec. 7 at 7 p.m.
Alternative: Work without a leash: Take in that neighborhood stray and give it a good home. (Make sure you take it to the vet for a checkup.)
Home for the Holidays
With all the houses knocked down by recent tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, mud slides and hurricanes, Georgia-based Habitat for Humanity has its hands full building homes all over the world. Give a week of your holiday vacation to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. Volunteer locally with Atlanta Habitat (404-223-5180) or DeKalb Habitat (404-534-1611), or nationally (800-HABITAT, www.habitat.org.)
No alternative: Houses are big.
If I Had a Hammer
Know your Phillips from your flat blade? Your claw from your ball peen? The Atlanta Community ToolBank (404-880-0054, www.toolbank.org) needs skilled volunteers to help fix up the homes of elderly and disabled low-income homeowners.
Alternative: Have your own tools? Get a buddy and offer to fix up the houses of your neighbors in need.
Must Fit Through Chimney
Help provide toys to all the girls and boys by volunteering to collect, sort, wrap, package and deliver donations for Atlanta Toys for Tots (678-225-4599, www.atlantatoysfortots.com) or the Atlanta Children's Shelter's Holiday House (404-892-3713, www.atlantachildrensshelter.com).
Alternative: Too broke to buy? Make paper snowflakes (see www.papersnowflakes.com) and write anonymous (nice!) notes to your neighbors. Hang them on their doors when they're asleep.