Tis the season for giving, and as always there are groups in our community that could use your help. In the spirit of the season, we offer our take on a gift guide — a few suggestions for ways you can help make your community a better place now or year-round.
Ask yourself: What do you "want" for Christmas?
If you want to help the hungry, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans (www.no-hunger.org) is trying to do more than ever after food stamp benefits were reduced last month. Last year Second Harvest distributed 20 million meals to needy Louisianans. Many other communities across Louisiana operate food banks, and all could use your help.
If you want your gift to serve a wide cross-section of people, the United Way of Southeast Louisiana (www.unitedwaysela.org) serves a seven-parish region with hundreds of different programs. You can donate to United Way in general or to one of its impact areas — education, health or "safety net," which provides "financial stability for hard-working people."
If you want to honor veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) (www.woundedwarriorproject.org) provides direct help and services for injured service members as they work to reintegrate into society. Job placement, counseling, and help dealing with the residual effects of combat stress are just a few of the things offered by WWP.
If you want to help children access health care, Children's Hospital New Orleans (www.chnola.org) is a not-for-profit pediatric health center that provides care for tens of thousands of kids every year. It's the Gulf South's only full-service medical center for children, and families from all over the South rely on Children's Hospital when their kids need serious medical help.
If you want to help parents with seriously ill children, consider Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater New Orleans (www.rhmc-nola.org). RHMC-NOLA offers families who have traveled to New Orleans for a child's medical care a place to stay, along with a stocked kitchen, essentials and a support network.
If you want to help families in crisis, consider a gift to Family Service of Greater New Orleans (www.fsgno.org). FSGNO works to strengthen the emotional health and foster the self-sufficiency of families and individuals by providing a range of counseling services and community education to families in need.
If you want to help animals, there is no shortage of locally based animal welfare groups — and, unfortunately, no shortage of need. Animal Rescue New Orleans (www.animalrescueneworleans.org), the Louisiana SPCA (www.la-spca.org), Jefferson SPCA (www.jeffersonspca.org) and Spaymart (www.spaymart.org) can always use donations of money and various animal-related products, as well as help from volunteers.
If you want to reverse an appalling health statistic, the NO/AIDS Task Force (www.noaidstaskforce.org) can use your help. Louisianans with HIV die at a rate that's twice the national average, and New Orleans has the third-highest rate of new infections in the country. NO/AIDS helps those people and emphasizes protection.
If you want to pay tribute to one of New Orleans' most inspiring citizens, consider helping out Team Gleason (www.teamgleason.org), the organization founded by former New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason to battle amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Gleason was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, and his organization is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the disease, helping newly diagnosed people find ways to cope and thrive and ultimately finding a cure.
If you want to pay forward your love for New Orleans music, consider donating or volunteering with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation Inc. (www.jazzandheritage.org) or Tipitina's Foundation (www.tipitinasfoundation.org). The Jazz & Heritage Foundation provides economic development grants, education programs and cultural enrichment festivals that keep the New Orleans spirit thriving all year, while the Tipitina's Foundation provides desperately needed musical instruments to New Orleans schools.
If you want to support the arts and boost education efforts, consider a gift to KID smART (www.kidsmart.org) or the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (www.georgerodriguefoundation.org). KID smART helps bring hands-on arts education to under-resourced public school kids in the metro area. The Rodrigue Foundation provides financial assistance in the arts to other nonprofits and helps foster educational art programs that are specially designed to enhance and expand art curricula in the face of state and federal cutbacks.
These are just a few of the local groups that always can use a helping hand.
In a season marked by commercialism, take a look around and ask yourself: What kind of city do you really "want" for yourself, your friends and your family? Now's the perfect time to answer that question with a gift.