Small Ways to Give Back This Year

Generosity goes a long way for seniors, schools and sick patients.

February 23, 2014, 2:00 AM

Feb. 23, 2014— -- When Dot Hartranft turned 91, she only wished for one thing -- a trip outside her Pennsylvania nursing home to a nearby Perkins Restaurant and Bakery.

"Their muffins are to die for," Hartrant gushed. "I'll put them against anything. Their muffins are the best."

Little did she know, her small wish was being heard loud and clear through the Twilight Wish Foundation, a charity group that helps grant wishes to seniors aged 68 and older who earn less than 200 percent of the annual poverty rate or who live in a nursing home. The organization posts wishes from seniors on its website and invites people to donate any dollar amount to make those wishes come true.

“It's a memory no one will take away from me,” Hartranft said. “Here, for this short time you are important, and wow. It’s nice”

This birthday became one Hartranft would never forget. Thanks to donor Lori Radel, Hartrant and six of her nursing-home friends were able to enjoy those delicious Perkin's muffins.

"Granting that wish was so simple anyone can do it," Radel said. "Seniors don't get heard, they get forgotten from time to time and this was a way to let them know 'I hear you.'"

There's a wide variety of ways to give back that don't involve breaking your wallet. When it comes to helping out a younger generation, Donors Choose is an organization that allows teachers in cash-strapped public schools to post classroom project requests on their site. Users can give any amount to the specific project that most inspires them.

Amy Flatow is a middle school photography teacher at Middle School 51 in Brooklyn, N.Y., who has benefited from donations to her classroom. Since 2008 Flatow has been able to fund 15 projects, most of which have provided computers and printers for her students. She estimates that she's raised as much as $15,000.

"I think good fundraising isn't about giving, but rather feeling good while you give, and I think that's the key to any successful fundraising," Flatow said. "You can give to the project, and then afterwards you end up having something substantial in the classroom that you can see."

If you're strapped for cash but feeling brave, you can join up with an organization like St. Baldrick's and shave your head to raise money for childhood cancer. At a recent event in Easton Pa, 65 volunteers shaved their heads and raised $26,000.

Susan Heard, who organized the event, has a very personal connection to the cause.

"My husband and I lost our son in 2011 to neuroblastoma. My son had me shave my head for the first time in 2010 and when he was dying he asked me to continue to raise money and to continue to shave my head until there was an answer for all the kids with cancer," she said.

Donating can also be done from the comfort of your own home.

The website makes donating fun. By going on their site, you can take a vocabulary quiz and for each correct answer, they donate 10 grams of rice through the World Food Programme.

Have extra hotel loyalty points or airline miles lying around? The Make-A-Wish Foundation uses them to help kids and their families travel to destinations around the world.

No matter how you choose to donate, there are a number of unique ways you can give back this year—allowing you to make a big impact on important causes.

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