November is a busy month: Feast on Thanksgiving, head to the big-box stores on Black Friday and the local shops on Small Business Saturday, then click away on Cyber Monday. But don’t forget to donate on Giving Tuesday (November 30)! An occasion designed to encourage generosity, Giving Tuesday (givingtuesday.org) calls on people to kick off the holiday season by making monetary donations to worthy causes of their choice. In honor of its 10th year, here’s a list of 10 great Chicagoland nonprofits to consider donating to, including three with novel volunteer programs. The changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic means end-of-year needs and fundraising specifics (like everything else) are subject to change — but all of these organizations could use your help. Visit their websites to donate.
PUT FOOD ON YOUR NEIGHBORS’ TABLE
Thinking outside the instant-mashed-potatoes box is how Care for Real (on the North Side) and Market Box (on the South) help reduce food insecurity for many Chicagoans. A mutual aid organization in Woodlawn, Market Box has delivered 8,000 bags of groceries to South Side kitchens since starting in April 2020 — including fresh produce from the region’s small and midsize farms, thereby bolstering Midwestern businesses.
Edgewater-based Care for Real, founded 50 years ago by a rabbi and a reverend, has met record demand during the pandemic. In addition to distributing food and in-season clothing six days a week, it helps needy families keep their dogs and cats with its pet pantry, which supplies food, treats, and litter. In lieu of (or possibly in addition to) its annual holiday toy drive, Care for Real plans to distribute Target gift cards this year. marketboxchi.org, careforreal.org
FUND ACTIVIST-INSPIRED ART
An arts agency devoted to social justice, Collaboraction tours all over the city, particularly in underserved neighborhoods. For Peacebook, its annual festival, the company teams with community artists to call for societal change through music, dance, and spoken-word performances. The Light, a new program, pairs young performers with adult mentors to produce art with an activist edge. collaboraction.org
ACCLIMATE REFUGEE GIRLS
Based in Edgewater, GirlForward pairs teen girls displaced from their home countries with local female mentors. Refugees receive tutoring, job-hunting assistance, and an all-important sense of sisterhood in their new city. Specific offerings include English vocabulary and conversation classes; SAT prep; distribution events where girls “shop” for school supplies, clothes, and personal hygiene products; and exploring the mentee’s home neighborhood together. During the pandemic, it provided Chromebooks for the girls to use at home. GirlForward expects increased need this year, helping to resettle evacuated Afghans as well as families from around the globe. girlforward.org
TACKLE ANIMAL OVER-POPULATION
The good deeds of Whiskers & Tails Rescue Foundation could get any curmudgeon purring. Its trap-neuter-return program focuses on humanely catching free-roaming cats to vaccinate and sterilize them to prevent further overpopulation. After that, they’re returned to their outdoor “homes” (which are monitored to ensure there’s adequate food and shelter) or, whenever possible, placed for adoption. By managing populations of outdoor community cats, Whiskers & Tails keeps them healthy, which enables the cats to reduce the city’s rodent population — win-win! The org’s programs are slowly rebounding after the pandemic brought donations to a halt. whiskersandtailsfoundation.org
KEEP CHICAGO GREEN — AND MOVING
Working Bikes believes everyone deserves a trusty two-wheeled steed of their own. From its 35,000-square-foot warehouse and shop space in Little Village, the nonprofit sells refurbished bicycles (and bike parts for home mechanics) at affordable prices. Those funds power its mission to reduce waste, lessen pollution, and promote personal wellness. Working Bikes also donates approximately 1,500 bicycles annually to local kids and adults and ships an estimated 7,000 bikes and tools abroad, providing transportation options to people in the Americas and Africa. workingbikes.org
REDUCE THE TOLL OF GUN VIOLENCE
While there’s no simple answer to the city’s gun violence problem, Chicago CRED offers a multipronged plan to reduce the toll and ultimately break the cycle. Its name is an acronym for Create Real Economic Destiny; to that end, it deploys street outreach teams, life coaches, and mentors to reach citizens of economically disadvantaged South and West Side communities. Participants study the effects of trauma in their lives, learning how to respond differently to stressful stimuli through cognitive behavioral intervention. After people complete gun violence prevention programs, particpants can enroll in CREDWorks, a six-month session focusing on job readiness skills and employment. chicagocred.org
If you’re looking to donate time rather than money, check out these volunteer opportunities.
READ WITH ROVER
Unless you’re misanthropic comedian W.C. Fields, Sit Stay Read has a hard-to-beat angle: Kids plus dogs! Once the humans complete training and pups earn temperament certifications (no breed or size restrictions), they visit K–3 classrooms in Chicago’s public schools to help students improve their reading comprehension. The org transitioned to video sessions during COVID, expanding its reach considerably. sitstayread.org
PUT YOUR HANDY SKILLS TO WORK
Borrowing over buying, repairing over replacing: These are some of the goals of Bridgeport-based Chicago Tool Library, which has the civic-minded aim of empowering people to DIY. This unique library lends everything from power washers to sewing machines to table saws for projects that run the gamut: home repair, gardening, cooking, camping, you name it. The library needs more long-term volunteers to join the roster. Tool experience is not necessary, but craftspeople can help repair used items. Remote volunteering opportunities also exist, and virtual orientations are held every two months. chicagotoollibrary.org
HELP THE HOMELESS
Connections for the Homeless stepped up quickly during the pandemic, doubling its budget to prevent more evictions, add shelter beds, and secure housing for 473 individuals in 2020. Serving northern Cook County, the Evanston-based organization allows families and high school students to participate in many roles, including volunteering at Hilda’s Place, a drop-in center with a clothes closet and lunch program. connect2home.org
You can find more service opportunities at Chicago Cares (chicagocares.org), which connects volunteers to many local organizations.