Ask Amy: Advice for the Real World

DEAR READERS: This is the time of year when our thoughts turn toward others as we search for something tangible to celebrate our relationships. The downside to this season is our focus on possessions, when so many people go without.

I’m reminded of this during these gloomy days in December when the path toward my office in Chicago is lit not only with twinkle lights but also with the glare from high-end shops, luring customers in with promises of the perfect gift.

Here is my annual gift guide for readers who are looking to give differently this year.

Please take these recommendations as a starting point, as you look for ways to give that reflect your own values.

I use Charitynavigator.org to search for and research charities, and highly recommend their rating system as a guide.

INTERNATIONAL

This is a tender and treacherous time for refugees and other vulnerable populations around the world; the following charities primarily serve populations outside the United States.

Save the Children — Founded in 1919 to aid children in war-ravaged Europe, Save the Children continues to advocate for the rights of children worldwide, often in times of great crisis.

The organization offers a “gift catalogue” where you can buy goats, pigs, sheep and honeybees for at-risk families; you can also sponsor a child, in this country or overseas. Go to Savethechildren.org for more information.

International Rescue Committee — Founded in 1933 at the suggestion of Albert Einstein to aid Germans suffering under Hitler, the IRC responds quickly to global crises, aiding the most vulnerable citizens.

Through their gift program, you can donate warm blankets, a year of school, or for $25, portable solar lights and chargers for refugee families on the move. Go to Rescue.org to learn more on the group.

Blinknow — Small-town New Jersey girl Maggie Doyne went on an overseas trip after high school that changed scores of lives.

In remote Surkhet, Nepal, with help from her neighbors back home, Doyne founded a home and school that now serves hundreds of children and their parents. You can buy sandals, medicine or a year’s supply of diapers for the babies they take in. Blinknow.org has more information.

Doctors Without Borders — This international, independent and politically impartial humanitarian organization sends medical teams and relief supplies to treat and help people made vulnerable by war or national disaster. Ninety percent of their budget comes from private donations. Doctorswithoutborders.org

VETERANS

According to Census Bureau statistics, there are currently 21.8 million military veterans in the United States. Government statistics estimate that approximately 47,725 veterans are homeless on any given night.

Homes for Our Troops — I appreciate the simplicity behind the mission of Homes for Our Troops, building specially adapted homes and giving them, mortgage-free, to severely injured veterans.

This highly rated charity has granted 190 specially adapted homes to veterans since its founding in 2004. Hfotusa.org

The Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation — Formed by a veteran of the Vietnam War who returned to his hometown of Bozeman, Montana, in 1969. Their vision is to help wounded service members with traumatic injuries heal from their wounds through the experience of fishing and floating on the pristine rivers of Montana. The foundation is now hoping to build a lodge that can accommodate the physical challenges of the disabled veterans during their time on the river. Warriorsandquietwaters.org

EDUCATION

Donors Choose — Children benefit when teachers can design and deliver special supplies and projects to their classrooms. On the Donors Choose website, teachers ask for materials and donors deliver. You can help fund books, art supplies and projects in your own community. Donorschoose.org

Artists for Humanity — This Boston-based organization connects young people with creative jobs. Afhboston.org

Mr. Holland’s Opus — Band instruments for school children! Everybody wins. Mhopus.org

Reach Out and Read — This national organization grew out of the special relationship pediatricians have with families of their young patients. Doctors promote literacy by incorporating books into patient care and by giving “prescriptions” for reading. An estimated 4.5 million children benefit from Reach out and Read programs each year. Reachoutandread.org

FOOD INSECURITY

According to a 2014 study by Feeding America, their network of food banks provides service to 46.5 million people in need across the United States, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors. Please volunteer for and support your local food band. Feedingamerica.org

Meals on Wheels — This important community-based feeding program delivers nutrition and companionship to more than 2 million elderly patrons each day.

Please donate money or volunteer at your local pantry or Meals on Wheels. Enter your ZIP code to support a feeding program in your community: mealsonwheelsamerica.org

Contact Amy Dickinson via email: askamy@tribpub.com

Follow her on Twitter @askingamy or like her on Facebook. Dickinson’s memoir, “The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them” (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.