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Donation: the only thing better than shopping local

Who needs reindeer? Give money to animal shelters—or bring home a kitty (City of Sacramento Animal Care Services, 2127 Front Street; (916) 808-PETS).

Who needs reindeer? Give money to animal shelters—or bring home a kitty (City of Sacramento Animal Care Services, 2127 Front Street; (916) 808-PETS).

Photo By Shoka

Buying gifts at independent and locally owned stores is tops, but giving to local charities is the ultimate win-win. That’s right: Most organizations make or break their years with holiday donations, so everyone’s belt-tightening and penny-pinching couldn’t come at a worse time. But, if you’re hoping for good karma throughout the new year, now is the time to open up your wallet and remember that donating to charities benefits the giver as much as the recipient.

So, with that in mind, why not substitute donations for gifts, especially for those hard-to-buy-for friends and family members? A card with a note stating that a donation has been made to a carefully selected charity still will bring on good cheer, especially if thought goes into selecting the appropriate local organization. It sure as hell beats a Best Buy gift card.

Here are some options.

The Salvation Army is one of the largest and best-known groups that provide annual services to needy families in the Sacramento area, including food and toy drives. To get information about donating, call (916) 563-3700. For a list of volunteer opportunities, go to www.tsatoday.org/sacramento and click the “Volunteer” button in the bottom-right corner of the page, or call (916) 563-3732.

For a hands-on experience in sharing the holiday spirit with others, Sacramento Loaves & Fishes Maryhouse has an Adopt-A-Family program. Families who are recent or current recipients of homeless services from Maryhouse are matched with donors, who provide groceries for a holiday dinner, a wrapped gift for each child and a Christmas tree. Donors are encouraged to meet and become acquainted with the families they serve, so it’s a more personal approach than many gift programs.

Maryhouse also has many other needs, according to Karen Rossi, coordinator of the Adopt-A-Family program. She says that new backpacks for children to take to school and jackets in children’s sizes are always welcome—as well as electric griddles. “We serve 120 to 140 breakfasts every day to women and children at Maryhouse, and we go through electric griddles pretty quickly. We can always use a new one,” she says. For more information, contact Rossi at (916) 897-5522, or e-mail Maryhouse at MH@sacloaves.org.

More information about assisting homeless Sacramentans during the holiday season is on the Loaves & Fishes Web site, at www.sacloaves.org/holiday. Options include donations of cash and needed items as well as volunteer opportunities.

And to make sure that your neighbors have something on the table this holiday season, Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services has a variety of programs: the food bank itself, serving 15,000 area residents monthly; well-baby programs; a clothes closet; programs for children and the elderly; and educational resources for all ages. To donate or volunteer, visit the Web site at www.sfbs.org or call (916) 456-1980 for more information.

Women and children in need of shelter can find help at St. John’s Shelter Program for Women and Children, which serves hundreds daily. For information about donating, a needs list is available online at www.stjohnsshelter.org/wishlist.php, and a holiday wish list can be downloaded as a PDF file. For more information about making donations to St. John’s, see the Web site or call (916) 453-1482.

Francis House is an interfaith effort to provide crisis services for the area’s most disadvantaged, including emergency-transportation vouchers, shelter, counseling, job referral, and assistance in receiving other services. It’s a clearinghouse of information and support for our neighbors in crisis and, given how tough times are, Francis House can use all the help it can get. Donations can be made online at www.francishouse.info. For more information about donating or volunteering, contact Francis House program manager Forrest Reed at (916) 443-2646.

And let’s not forget how rough our four-legged friends can have it this time of year. Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary is in the middle of renovating a former real-estate office into a new cat sanctuary, so they’ll need cash for that. And Happy Tails is the ideal shelter: They have a no-kill and cage-free policy. For information about donations, see the Happy Tails Web site at www.happytails.org or call (916) 556-1155.

Or you can bring a animal home for the holidays, and the best place in town to adopt an furry family member is still the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The SSPCA’s shelter has basic needs, with a list available on their Web site at www.sspca.org. For information about donating cash, see the Web site or call the fundraising office at (916) 383-7387 ext. 9105.

Another way to help the animals while still putting some brightly wrapped goodies under the tree is to do your holiday shopping at the SSPCA’s Thrift Store, at 1517 E Street in Sacramento. They’ve got a wide variety of clothes, knick-knacks, small furniture and books, with proceeds going to keep the shelter’s animals eating whatever chow they need.

Yes, that’s a lot of local organizations hungry for Sacramento dollars. But think about it: If every gift buyer in the city throws only $10 their way, you’re talking millions of dollars in the charity pool. And that’s enough to keep these groups afloat through ’09.