Category Archives: Charity Review

Responding to Disaster

The last couple weeks have been heavy, with constant news stories of hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires ravaging parts of the world. Countless lives have been altered by these natural disasters, and millions are in need of emergency aid. So for those of us not directly affected by the crises, what can we do to help?

Of course, the first thing I’m going to suggest is prayer. We serve an all-powerful God. He is not surprised by these disasters. He cares deeply, and his heart is broken for those who are suffering. He welcomes a dialog with us about our needs and our feelings. Prayer changes things, and it changes us. Spend some time talking to God about these crises and the many people who are in need of a miracle right now.

Secondly, don’t start sending boxes of junk to the disaster areas. Every time a catastrophe like this happens, people gather boxes of useless junk and ship them off to the disaster area. Their hearts are in the right place, but overwhelmed locals end up with warehouses full of stuff that needs to be sorted and cleaned before it can be distributed, and they have to dispose of landfills full of stuff that no one needs. You would be better off holding a garage sale and sending your profits to a reputable non-profit organization.

The best thing you can do (other than praying), is to give to a reputable non-profit organization providing disaster relief in the area. They have trained, dedicated staff who deliver things like clean water, medical supplies, and food where it’s needed most. Be careful when you select your non-profit. Some of the big guys that get a lot of publicity have tremendously high overhead, and only a fraction of your donation ever makes it to the disaster victims. Use a website like Charity Navigator or GuideStar to help you find an organization that keeps their overhead low and uses best practices of accountability.

Finally, think local. If you have friends or family members dealing with the tragedy, ask them what they need. I was surprised last week to find out that in the wake of Hurricane Harvey there is a need for bug spray in parts of Texas. I never would have thought of that. They are far enough into the cleanup effort that most of them are getting mail service again, so Amazon can get supplies to your loved ones in just a couple days.

And on the topic of thinking locally, don’t forget the small charities and churches local to the area in crisis. Donating funds to local churches or local food banks will put your dollars to work in the local community quickly.

Some links:

GuideStar

Charity Navigator

Convoy of Hope – Convoy is my charity of choice for giving to the hurricane relief effort. I’ve blogged about them before. Check out my previous posts here and here.

Food Bank Locator

Organization Profile: Kiva Microfinance

Thank you for your patience as I have been up to my eyeballs in kitchen remodel and then traveling for Easter weekend. My part of the kitchen remodel (painting the cabinetry) is done, and it’s in the hands of the pros who will soon be installing the countertops and the new sink and faucet. I can’t wait to have it all done!

Over the years I’ve mentioned the power of microfinance in creating long-term change for people living in poverty. The lack of access to relatively small amounts of capital stunts an individual’s ability to build for the future. But I don’t just talk about microfinance; I actually participate in the process.

I currently have a portfolio of four microfinance loans through Kiva. Kiva is a four star-rated non-profit organization that connects private lenders to small borrowers around the world. With an investment of $25 or more, you can become part of a team that helps poor or underrepresented people get the capital they need to start or expand their businesses. The loans vary in amount, as do the borrowers’ projects, but the lenders always chip in at $25 per person. Kiva gives you the tools to choose your borrowers by gender, location, group or individual, and by investment type (education, agriculture, production, etc.). You can narrow down the results and then read through the borrowers’ stories until you find one with which you connect. Some loan projects even have matching funds available, so your $25 can go twice as far!

The borrowers have a repayment schedule, just like a loan from your local bank or credit union, and they pay a little interest. Kiva claims their repayment rate is 97.1%, and the individual stories come with a risk rating to help you chose your project. So far all of my loans (with the exception of the one I made just this week) have started to make repayments.

I make a new loan twice a year, at Christmas and at my birthday. My goal is to build a portfolio of loans large enough that I can continue making my bi-annual loans using only the repayment capital from the old loans. It’s really exciting to read the stories of the potential borrowers and to have the opportunity to support their dreams and a better future for their families. I currently have four loans open, and they include male, female, and group borrowers on several continents. Two of my loans helped small farmers add bee keeping to their family farms – a benefit for the environment as well as the farmers’ futures. One of my loans is right here in the US, helping a small business owner invest in her company. The fourth loan helped a group purchase raw materials for their peanut butter business (my son chose that one!).

I always evaluate a potential project by the long-term sustainability it will provide for the borrower. For example, I would pick a project that helped a farmer get equipment before I would pick a project that provided wholesale goods that would be here and gone. Not that wholesale goods is a bad investment, but I want my investment to keep on giving year after year, making it possible for the borrowers to do more for many years to come. Some of the donors like giving to loans for women in countries where women are denied access. Some donors have a heart for a particular country and make loans in those places.

Participating in a microfinance loan is a low-risk investment. If a loan goes unpaid, you just made a $25 donation – no big loss. But if it gets repaid and you continue to reinvest the money, your $25 could have a tremendous impact for generations to come.

Charity Review and Service Project: Dress for Success

The answer to long-lasting change in the lives of the world’s poor and hungry is opportunity. If people have the opportunity to get an education, start a business, or get a good-paying job, they can break the cycle of poverty for good. That’s why my favorite non-profits address the vital need for opportunity. That’s why I support fair trade companies, microfinance for access to capital, and non-profits that feed and educate kids around the world.

Recently I learned of another charity focused on opportunity: Dress for Success. The mission of Dress for Success (from their website): “to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.” Not a handout, an opportunity. An opportunity to get a professional job and to break the cycle of poverty for good.

So how do they do it? Dress for Success has local offices in most major cities, including right here in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (1549 University Avenue West
St. Paul). At the local office, they collect clean, current-season, professional apparel, and distribute it to women entering the job market. They also offer career services like job interview training, career coaching, and mentoring to help clients find and keep jobs.

You can easily see how their work helps women overcome a significant barrier and gain the opportunity for a better future! Charity Navigator has given Dress for Success a perfect 4-star rating, so you can feel good about supporting their work. They accept financial donations, volunteers (working with both the clothing side and the workforce-prep side), and donations of clean, in-season, professional women’s clothing and accessories. You can bring in a small load from your personal collection, or you can host a clothing drive (info on the website under your local chapter). Right now I’m in the process of sorting through my Great Wardrobe Purge collection, and I’ll be taking a load to DFS in the near future. If you’re interested in doing the same, check out this list from their website:

publication1

Organization Profile: International Justice Mission

IJM

I wasn’t planning to bring you another organization profile this week, so soon after the FMSC profile, but when I woke up this morning, the first thing I saw was a friend’s retweet about an International Justice Mission (IJM) lawyer, his client, and a taxi driver who were kidnapped in Kenya. IJM was asking its supporters to use social media to make the Kenyan ambassador aware of the kidnapping and move him to help the investigation along. I added my voice to the chorus by posting my retweet, and I decided to use today’s blog post to introduce you to IJM.

Because of the underground nature of the offense, as well as the varying definitions of “modern slavery” and “human trafficking,” there is no concrete number of people enslaved in the world today. In a 2014 report, the U.S. State Department put the number at around 20.9 million people. The Global Survey Index puts the estimate at 35.8 million. Other estimates run even higher. Only God knows the actual number, but whatever it is, it’s too many. Even one is too many.

I could go on and on about how our wasteful love of cheap commodities and industries like fast fashion and pornography fuel this problem, but I really want to talk about the heroes, not the villains. International Justice Mission is one such hero. They are the largest justice organization in the world. IJM has 17 field offices around the world, and they work with the governments of developing nations to insure that all people are treated fairly and allowed to live free.

IJM’s focus is on fixing broken systems by providing resources and training for local law enforcement and advocacy and hope for victims. They physically rescue people living in slavery, work with social services to see people restored to their communities in a safe and healthy way, push for the prosecution of criminals, and provide legal services to the falsely accused.

It’s a big organization with a lot of irons in the fire, but it is extremely well run. International Justice Mission is rated “gold” by GuideStar, and is a Charity Navigator four-star organization. Their financial reports from the past five years are available right on their website. IJM’s CEO, Gary Haugen, has a background in human rights prosecution with the U.S. State Department. He founded IJM after working on the Rwandan genocide for the State Department and realizing that the world needed more people fighting injustice and violence against the powerless.

If you’re interested in the cause of human trafficking or modern slavery, the IJM website has many useful links and resources. I highly recommend them as a source of information, and they are an excellent organization to support with your finances and prayers. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter so you can raise your voice for awareness as well!

Organization Profile – Feed My Starving Children

FMSC.jpgHappy Friday, friends! It’s setting up to be a hot weekend here in Minnesota (yes, really, we have those. It’s going to be humid and in the 90s). I plan to beat the heat by spending the weekend at work, as I usually do, and going to small group on Saturday. I’m also working on my son’s Scouting scrap book in preparation for his Eagle Scout court of honor coming up in August. I hope that wherever you are you are keeping cool and doing something fun this weekend.

For today’s post, I’m going to share another of my favorite organizations with you.

Feed My Starving Children
http://www.fmsc.org
Charity Navigator – 4 Stars

I first became aware of FMSC because they have a food packing facility near my home, and we went there as a work group back when I was doing childcare at a gym. I loved their mission to feed hungry kids around the world and the opportunity to participate hands-on by packing meals.

When you visit an FMSC packing facility or mobile pack event, you participate in manufacturing one of three nutritionally complete meal options. The most common, and my favorite to pack, is the original Manna Pack. They also make two potato-based formulas, Potato-W and Potato-D. The potato formulas meet the specific nutritional needs of weaning babies (W ), and people with chronic diarrhea (D), a serious and life-threatening condition for the malnourished. The reason I prefer packing Manna Pack is because the potato powder, the basis for the other two formulas, floats in the air and sticks to everything, including your skin and clothes. It doesn’t hurt anything and it washes right off, but I still prefer original Manna Pack.

fmsc meals

Manna Pack consists of vitamins (a vegetarian, chicken-flavored vitamin powder), vegetables (dry veggie bits), soy* (a brown, crunchy, cereal-like puffed soy), and rice. Volunteers in hairnets and gloves gather around a table to fill bags with carefully-portioned amounts of each ingredient. They weigh the bags, and pass them off to a sealer (my favorite job), who pops the bag closed, removing as much air as possible, and seals it shut using a commercial sealing press machine (the sealer has to be 18+). A boxer (J’s favorite job) at each pair of tables boxes up the meals, keeps a tally of the boxes finished by his tables, and calls out cheers to keep everyone having fun and to let the warehouse volunteers know that they need to come get another completed box.

FMSC’s nutritionally-complete meals are paid for my donations, and packed by volunteers, and each meal costs less than twenty-five cents to produce. The boxes of food are loaded onto pallets and shipped to partner organizations around the world. These partners use the FMSC food in their various missions feeding orphans, refugees, and hungry children around the world. For example, some of Venture‘s work uses FMSC meals.

Packing sessions at FMSC take place six days a week, daytime as well as evening. A packing session lasts a couple of hours from the orientation rally to the closing (optional) prayer over the pallets (FMSC is a Christian organization, although they do not require you to have any faith connection to come and pack nor to receive meals). Children five years and over can participate, though there are rules for how many kids/per adult you can have in your group (and that number varies depending on the kids’ ages). You will have to wear a hairnet the entire time you are at the packing facility, and you cannot wear any jewelry, so it’s best to leave that at home. You can get more information on packing locations and rules on the FMSC website.

If Mobile Pack is coming to your area, or if you live near a permanent facility, I highly recommend you donate and/or try packing meals at Feed My Starving Children. It’s a great experience and a free outing for the whole family (or small group, book club, work group, birthday party, etc.). The organization is reputable, and their work (YOUR work) is life-saving.

fmsc feb 2016

Have you packed meals at FMSC or another similar organization, or worked with a partner organization that distributes the meals to hungry kids? Tell us about it in the comments!

*Please note that soy is used throughout the facility, so if you have a serious soy allergy, you should probably confine your support to financial giving. If your soy allergy is mild or limited to actually eating soy, you can go to a packing event. The staff will put you to work labeling bags or something of that nature away from the packing room.