by Dan Morgridge
There's always plenty to do in the city, but sometimes you've got to balance what's important. Are you hitting the gym and playing sports enough? Are you seeing your friends enough? Are you expanding your artistic and culinary horizons? These are all fine and dandy goals, but it's also important to think a little bigger now and then. Take a break from yourself and go support those in need through one of these excellent Chicagoland charitable organizations.
Chicago Community Trust
If you want to really swing your giving weight around, go with one of the city's most respected and powerful giving organizations. Having been in existence for over 95 years, CCT has become a powerful name in soliciting donations from benefactors as well as screening and selecting recipients for that money. Their knowledge and resources offer more than just financial benefit for the organizations they support – since they've been there before, they can help fledgling organizations manage their money. While there are many wealthy benefactors who contribute to CCT, they also depend on general donations from the public as well – every bit counts.
Growing Home addresses two big issues at once. First, it provides transitional employment for those whose criminal background or homelessness leaves them unable to apply for other jobs. The second (and really cool) part of the equation is that these jobs are in local organic farming. You might scoff at the idea of farmers' markets being that big of a deal, but Growing Home's Wood Street Urban Farm sold 11,000 pounds of produce last year, generating an income of $45,000 – which is a big deal for those workers who might otherwise be on the street. Chicago gets more organic produce, and creates new jobs – everyone wins.
There are many organizations to raise awareness for cancer, but Immerman performs a unique service for those in need. Those suffering from cancer, caring for a loved one with cancer, or even survivors have a lot on their mind – and Immerman offers them the chance to talk through it with someone who's been there. Each Mentor Angel is the same age and gender as the person seeking support, and is trained to talk the person through their situation with the knowledge they have from their own experiences. This one-on-one treatment is very well received, and many of those who go through the program go on to become angels themselves.
Dave Eggers' string of nonprofit writing and tutoring centers are a creative and thoughtful way of making learning fun for kids. 826 Chi, like all of the 826 centers, is disguised as something other than a learning center – here it's The Boring Store, which is itself full of spy gadgets and toys. Beyond the fun of the store, the center hosts many volunteers who coordinate writing classes for youth aged 6-18. Writing workshops, one-on-one tutoring, and even ESL programs. And don't think they're any less creative when it comes to their fundraisers – you can help support the cause by attending proms or "Scrabble for Cheaters", where extra donations allow you to buy extra letters or play one nonsense word.
One of the more unique charitable organizations in Chicago, Working Bikes, focuses on reclaiming and repairing bikes from disrepair (or even the trash) and returning them to the streets. Of course, only some of the bike-recycling benefits thrifty shoppers here in Chicago – bikes not sold here are shipped over to third-world countries in need of the transportation. Without any government or foundation support, the shop funds their actions solely through bike sales and individual donors. In addition to the nearly 5,000 bicycles distributed throughout the world, some 500 bicycles and wheelchairs are refurbished for donation to those in our own city – for city programs and refugees. If you're tight on cash and still want to make a donation somewhere, check and see if you've got an old bike gathering dust somewhere – it can make just as much of a difference as your pocketbook.
Dan Morgridge is a writer in Chicago's Ukrainian Village. He enjoys eating and drinking above his means, finding new music, and socially conscious hedonism.
for more features.