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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

UPDATED: Charity Begins at Home

Giving to help others – an alternative to holiday gifts
By Will Collette

With only a week to go, I would again suggest there is an alternative to frantic Christmas shopping - give to charity in the name of family and friends.

I have updated this earlier post with some additional suggestions for non-profits that can put your holiday donations to good use - see the end of this article.

Our family started a tradition years ago that instead of exchanging gifts (hoping they will fit, wondering how much of a hassle it will be to return it), we increased our charitable giving. We compared notes on the charities we like – RI Food Bank, Amos House, Doctors Without Borders, etc. and found this to be a much more satisfying way to mark the season.

This is Progressive Charlestown’s first second Christmas with you, so we’d like to pass on this idea for alternative gift giving, but to also pass on some specific ideas.

Friends of Ninigret Park
If you want to keep your money close to home, there are several ways to give to groups that do good here in town.

Three groups operate under the Town of Charlestown – the Friends of the Charlestown Animal Shelter, South County Volunteers (they run the Charlestown Community/Senior Center) the Charlestown Canine Club (which runs the new dog park at Ninigret Park) and the Friends of Ninigret Park. 

Other bona fide charities in town (tax-deductible and they are current in filing the IRS 990 reports which you can look up and read at

RI-CAN which provides food and other assistance to the poor. PO Box 204, Charlestown 02813

Cross Mills Public Library, Box 1680, Charlestown 02813. A bustling center of our community. They also accept donations of gently used books, CDs, DVDs, etc. – and such donations are tax-deductible.

South County Habitat for Humanity. PO Box 68, Shannock 02875. They actually build affordable housing, not just talk about it. You can also donate resalable hardware, building materials and household goods to Habitat’s ReStore – tax-deductible.

Charlestown Historical Society. PO Box 100, Charlestown 02813. The construction of their new building – next to Cross Mills Library – is now fully funded, but a lot more work needs to be done. I’d love to see these guys take over the General Stanton Inn!

Frosty Drew Observatory. PO Box 160, Charlestown 02813. There’s no place better than Frosty Drew to appreciate the wonder of our dark skies.

NOTE: Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Rhode Island makes home pick-ups of clothing and household goods at least once a month. They provide you with a receipt you can use to deduct the fair market value of the donated goods from your taxes. 

WATCH OUT for FAKE charities
(click to enlarge)
Cathy and I look for non-profit organizations that do work we care about, that help people in our community and that are well-managed. I check the ratings of non-profits but put the greatest emphasis on whether the non-profit files its IRS-990 reports (available for free at

The IRS-990 report is the only public document where a charity must detail its income, expenses, assets, spending on program services, overhead, governance and major donors. A non-profit that either doesn’t file or doesn’t disclose is an organization to be avoided.

Charlestown’s A Ray of Hope is a case in point.

If you want to give a traditional gift, either instead of a donation or, better, in addition to, please consider buying locally. We have a nice cluster of local businesses on both sides of Route 2 where it meets Route 1 (including one of our special favorites, the Charlestown Gallery) and along 1A. 

For some great Native American jewelry and crafts, try the new Purple Shell on Route One. Allen Breed's wampum shell jewelry are works of art.

There are wonderful artists and craftspeople in Carolina village, such as the Carolina Fiber and Fiction Center  in the Octagon House on Route 112 in Carolina

Outside of Charlestown, here are some great groups to consider for alternative Christmas giving:

Fund for Community Progress, 908 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, RI 02888. They serve as a social justice version of the United Way.

RI Community Food Bank200 Niantic Avenue  Providence, RI 02907-3150 which collects and distributes food to local food pantries.

Amos House, 415 Friendship St., Box 72873, Providence RI 02907 has been providing housing and food for low-income people for decades, and most recently added a job training program through their new catering business.

RI Coalition for the Homeless, 1070 Main St, Pawtucket, RI 02860. After what Charlestown has been trying to do lately to mess up the state's affordable housing program, I think an outpouring of support from this town is in order. 

Fuerza Laboral/The Power of Workers,  PO Box 202, Central Falls, RI 02863. This is Rhode Island's leading worker advocacy group. They specialize in fighting "wage theft." DISCLOSURE: I serve on their Advisory Committee).

George Wiley Center, 32 East Avenue  Pawtucket, RI 02860-4004. No other group in Rhode Island has done so much to fight utility rate hikes and to help keep people from freezing to death. Founded by RI's legendary organizer Henry Shelton.