giving back






The holidays are a time for both giving and giving back. Many families have holiday traditions of volunteering at soup kitchens, participating with community outreach relief or donating items to worthy causes such as Project Bundle Up or Toys for Tots.

In these hectic days, however, finding a few extra hours to devote to any additional project is difficult, so mtl came up with an inspired idea… make use of an already planned event and turn it into an opportunity to get a lot of people involved with a worthy cause.

Here’s the basic idea: take your annual Christmas party, Thanksgiving Day dinner, end-of-the-year office party or holiday meeting of your Bunco group, book club, Scout troop, church youth group or knitting circle and announce the party will do double duty as a fundraiser. Then select a cause. Maybe your office is filled with animal lovers or your book group recently read and was inspired by The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and would like to help women battling cancer. There are a lot of worthy causes in Pittsburgh, and while all could use monetary donations, we checked with a few to see what else they need. They need a lot. So when sending your party invitation, include a wish list from the organization you want to support. After the party, just drop off the donations. Best of all this idea works any time, as all these organizations need help all year.

Animal shelters can use canned and bagged food as well as treats, blankets, cat litter and toys, but there are a lot of items they need that you might not think of such as office and cleaning supplies. The websites for Animal Rescue League ( in East Liberty; Animal Friends ( in the North Hills, the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society ( on the North Side and Homeless Cat Management ( in Tarentum all provide extensive wish lists of items they need.

Yearlong: All these shelters need help with basic administrative duties, special event planning and clerical tasks as well as dog walking and cat socializing. You might also think about fostering an animal.
ave a book group? Then you may have a pile of books you’ll never read again. At your holiday book group meeting, ask members to bring the books they don’t want anymore,  as well as newer magazines (issued within the last year). Box the books and magazine for local nursing homes such as Asbury Heights on Bower Hill Road and the Baptist Homes on Castle Shannon Boulevard.

Another cool choice for your castoff books is Book ‘Em, a program sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center that sends books to prisoners in Pennsylvania. Books should be paperback, and the website provides a list of needed items: Ask everyone to donate $4—that’s the cost to mail the books to the prisoners. Drop books off at the Thomas Merton Center, 5129 Penn Avenue, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays or 4 to 7 p.m., Sundays. Yearlong: Book ’Em needs help sorting donations, reading letters from prisoners, selecting reading materials, packing books and updating the database. They meet weekly Sundays from 4 to 7 p.m., at 5129 Penn Avenue. They also need help coordinating fundraisers, manning tables at events, hosting book drives, recruiting volunteers, and more. Email with questions.

Get the girls together for a clothing swap. Have everyone bring clothes, shoes, purses and other accessories they no longer like or fit into. Spread the clothes out and give everyone a chance to select a few “new” items. Then sort the remainder into two piles—professional business clothes and everything else.

Take the “everything else” pile to Goodwill on Banksville Road, or the St. Vincent DePaul drop box behind St. Bernard Church, or schedule a pickup with the Vietnam Veterans of America at or 1-800-775-VETS. As for those crisp blouses, gorgeous blazers and jackets, dressy skirts and pants and professional-looking handbags, briefcases and shoes, send them to Dress for Success, an organization created to provide disadvantaged women with professional attire for job interviews. Check for a list of what they will and won’t accept and contact 412-201-4204
or email to schedule a dropoff or arrange a pickup.

Yearlong: Dress for Success needs people with SUVs, minivans or trucks who can pick up larger donations, as well as clothing sorters, client consultants and people to assist with special events and fundraisers. Call 412-201-4204.

In addition to books and magazines mentioned previously, residents love getting stamps, blank note cards, Kleenex, large print word search books (available at a dollar store) and hand sanitizer. Arrange items in baskets to give the gifts a little flair. Think about delivering the baskets as a group and then sticking around to do a little chatting or caroling. Contact Asbury at 412-571-5150 or and the Baptist Homes at 412-572-8254 to arrange a dropoff.

Yearlong: The Baptist Homes and Asbury Heights always need volunteers to assist with clerical jobs, visit with patients and serve as escorts. Call the numbers listed above.

Don’t leave the kids out of the fun. Host a party for them or your scout troop or church youth group and ask guests to bring donations for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Donate toys at the information desk in the main lobby, 4401 Penn Avenue, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A list of appropriate items for infants and toddlers (teething toys, sippy cups and picture books), pre-schoolers (puppets, crayons, board games, Play-Doh), school age children (Nerf toys, comic books, jigsaw puzzles, Legos) and teens (magazines, board games, athletic equipment and grooming kits) is available at Pick an age group and include the list with the invitation to your party. (Please note: the hospital does not accept used stuffed animals; any other previously owned items must be gently used and clean.) 412-692-5325 for information.

The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh, ( on Penn Avenue in Bloomfield, promotes the health and well being of infants and children through its pediatric specialty hospital, family center and adoption services. Their website features a wish list—from clothing and linens to car seats, toiletries, diapers and formula. To schedule a dropoff, contact 412-441-4884 ext. 2044 or

There are several food pantries in the South Hills and many churches collect food for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Ask your guests to bring canned goods, juice boxes, cereal, cans of soup (anything not perishable and not in glass containers) ,as well as toilet paper and other paper products, cleaning supplies, feminine hygiene items and toiletries (no medications).

If your church does not have a food pantry, drop items off at the St. Winifred Food Pantry, a volunteer-run non-denominational program that supplies approximately 250 needy families in the South Hills with groceries every month. Drop off items between 10 and 11 a.m., Wednesdays and Saturdays at 550 Sleepy Hollow Road. 412-343-1915. Also close by is the South Hills Interfaith Ministries (SHIM) food pantry, which operates two fully-stocked pantries for families in Bethel Park, South Park, Finleyville, Upper St. Clair, Mt. Lebanon, Dormont, Castle Shannon and Baldwin-Whitehall. SHIM distributes more than 250,000 pounds of food a year.  Drop off things between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Wednesday, 5301 South Park Avenue off Library Road (near Bethany Lutheran Church). Call 412-854-9120 before you go.

Yearlong: Help is needed to man the food pantries and deliver food to shut-ins. At St. Winfred’s call 412-343-1915; at SHIM, contact Natalie Klimas at 412-854-9120 ext. 10 or

Anyone who has cared for elderly relatives probably has crutches, bath chairs and canes stored in a closet or an attic. The South Hills Personal Assistance Equipment Lending Library, which operates out of Southminster Presbyterian Church on Washington Road, would appreciate your donation. Other items accepted include wheelchairs, walkers, bath/shower chairs, potty chairs and lifts. Southminster then lends out the items to people who need them and donates surplus items to similar groups in the Pittsburgh area. Call 412-343-8900 to drop off (or pick up) an item.

Hold a special session of your knitting/crocheting group to make caps for people undergoing chemotherapy. The web is overflowing with easy and free patterns for men and women, and the Cancer Caring Center, 4177 Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield, accepts donations yearlong. 412-622-1212.

Some hospitals now refuse knitted caps for preemies because the yarn fuzz can interfere with the machinery, so check before donating. The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh (, however, will accept preemie clothes and blankets—handmade or store bought. For info or to schedule a dropoff, contact 412-441-4884 ext. 2044 or

Operation Troop Appreciation seeks DVDs, board games, batteries, prepackaged snack foods, towels, chapstick, personal hygiene items, phone cards and more. A complete wish list is at; click “donate now.” The troops love receiving handwritten letters, so host a holiday party for your scout troop or church youth group where the kids can write letters and draw pictures for the troops. To arrange a dropoff at the Century III Mall packing facility, contact or 412-877-7864.

The women and children residing at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. a sanctuary from domestic  violence,  could use a lift over the holidays. The shelter offers a wish list of items—from bus passes to children’s clothing—at Toiletries are a popular item—hair care products, powder, mouthwash, nail polish remover, baby oil, razors and shave gel, deodorant, combs and brushes, tweezers, Vaseline, hair dryers, fluffy new towels and slippers. Ask every guest  to bring several of one item, and you provide the baskets (hint, use your Michaels coupons). Spend the party arranging the items into the baskets and give a prize for the best looking one. Call 412-687-8017 ext. 307 (food) or ext. 359 (other items) to schedule a dropoff.