Giving Back

This holiday, your usual gifts could serve a higher purpose

Thanks to two friends – one old, one new – I’m skipping gifts for grown-up family members. Why? We have too much, and my friends need so much.

Here’s the deal, Mom and Dad. Instead of giving you another dust collector, I’m giving some bucks to Ryan Hertz. Well, more specifically, I’m donating to the South Oakland Shelter (SOS), a Lathrup Village-based organization that helps provide temporary lodging and support services to homeless individuals and families.

And apologies to my brother, sister and various in-laws. Any money I could have spent on iTunes, Amazon or another gift cards is going to Cindy Jacobs. She’s organizing Operation: Ornament, a brand-new effort that is collecting Christmas trees, tree stands, lights, ornaments and the like for the families who receive assistance through Focus: HOPE.

Yup, it’s that time again. It’s time to stop, reflect and realize we are all so stinkin’ lucky around here. If you’ve got a roof, a car and even two dimes to rub together right now, you pretty much have it made in Detroit.

I’m a big believer in karma. I get kicked in the shins, a traffic ticket, a lousy haircut…I go donate something on Detroit’s Kiva site or Kickstarter or what have you. And I’m tired of seeing my thoughtful Christmas gifts in junk drawers. I’m not saying who the guilty party is, but you know who you are.

I talked to Hertz this week about the South Oakland Shelter for a variety of reasons. But the one that stands out the most is this little thing called the Michigan Homeless State Tax Credit, which comes to an end as of Dec. 31. The Credit will refund 50 percent of your gift back to you on gifts of up to $200 for individuals or $400 for married couples filing jointly.

The state gives you this credit when you make a donation to a qualifying shelter for homeless persons (like the lovely SOS), a food bank, a food kitchen, or other entity whose primary purpose is “to provide overnight accommodations, food or meals to indigent persons.”

This 25-year-old organization always needs in-kind donations (professional clothing for its clients to go on job interviews, furniture for folks to set up new households, non-perishable food to stock their shelves). The SOS loves volunteers and folks to adopt one of their families around the holiday season. But they truly need financial contributions, especially now, because storage space is tight and people’s budgets for charitable giving is even tighter.

Becoming homeless is one of the most devastating situations in a person’s life, Hertz explained to me. So that is why one of the Shelter’s main purposes is to get people sheltered in a temporary situation or something more permanent. “Our goal is housing first,” he added.

From there, the staff helps them set up a budget, find a job and a plethora of other activities aimed at stabilizing them and the community around them. The staff and volunteers there work so diligently that Hertz is raising $3,000 by year’s end for the Shelter. (Hint, hint…that’s a great place to start donating if you so choose.)

As for Ms. Jacobs…I had the distinct pleasure to work with her at The Detroit News. She is a dynamic person – young, smart and vivacious in every sense of the word. One person has described her as “a force of nature that cannot be ignored. She makes these things happen.”

So I wasn’t surprised to hear about her Operation: Ornament project. It’s a huge undertaking, and I am hugely proud to see her tackle this. Kudos to her, and many cheers for Focus: HOPE for doing this. Jacobs agrees: “They will then make sure as many families as we have trees for will get a tree, a tree stand and a box with ornaments and lights,” she wrote.

Imagine if you could (I promise to only use ‘imagine’ once here…) how awesome a holiday is if you have the right tools to celebrate it. I cannot fathom how much happier an event it will be for these families. I am awed by the idea – which Jacobs thought of as she stumbled over some old ornaments during a cleaning session.

So far, she has had ample tree donations, Jacobs told me via email. What they need now is tree stands, lights and ornaments. She and fellow organizer Lola Woods are gathering the stuff at Lola Salon in Pleasant Ridge. There are scheduled drop off times, but Jacobs notes that they’ll pretty much make accommodations as needed. (Call the salon at 248-399-0104 for details.)

There are so many causes. There is such great need. Start somewhere. Start thinking. You don’t have to organize a group like the South Oakland Shelter or a project like Operation: Ornament. You just need a credit card, some new or used Christmas gear and some legs to get moving. You have until Dec. 7 for the ornaments and Dec. 31 for the donation. Just sayin’.

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