How to Be a Better Westchesterite
No one can do everything; everyone can do something. Here’s our list of 82 organizations you can help to make your little corner of Westchester a better place to be.
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Science shows that helping others helps us. Whether it’s donating services or goods or giving of your time or dollars, the very act jump-starts the release of dopamine and other feel-good chemicals in the brain, like when we eat a delicious meal or have great sex. Just volunteering a few hours every week or reaching into your pocket now and then can improve your mood as well as your community. So what’s stopping you? Here, we give you 82 ways to be a better Westchester resident and an even happier human being.
Help The Poor
In 1990, Westchester had the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country, with a peak of 4,500 people in shelters. Many could have avoided eviction if they had had access to a small temporary loan to help them through a rough patch. Enter The Bridge Fund of Westchester (171 E Post Rd, White Plains, 914-949-8146), whose mission is to prevent evictions with short-term loans. Since 1990, the number of homeless in the county’s shelter system has plummeted 70 percent, with The Bridge Fund of Westchester receiving considerable credit for that drop. (Indeed, it was so successful that it was the model that led to the creation of The Bridge Fund of New York City.) The average loan is just $910 per household. Small loans; huge paybacks. So write a check on their behalf.
Build a Home
If you can wield a hammer, push a broom, or pour a cup of coffee, you can help fix some deserving soul’s rundown home or build a new one from scratch. Through volunteer labor and tax-deductible donations of money and materials, Habitat for Humanity builds and rehabilitates houses with the help of homeowners. This isn’t a give-away program. In addition to coming up with a down payment and making monthly mortgage payments, each homeowner family invests hundreds of hours building their house or helping others build theirs. And those mortgage payments? They go right back into a revolving fund that is used to build more houses, coming full circle. Volunteer orientation is on Monday nights from 6 to 8 pm at 527 Main St, New Rochelle, (888) 9-HABITAT.
Calories don’t count when you’re consuming them for a good cause. Both the Greyston Bakery in Yonkers (104 Alexander St, 914-375-1510) and Connie’s Bakery in Mount Kisco (41 S Moger Ave, 866-926-6643) train the formerly unemployed to be expert pastry chefs. Greyston’s brownies are so yummy that Ben & Jerry’s selected them for the company’s bestselling Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream, as well as Dave Matthews Band Magic Brownies, Half Baked, and Neapolitan Dynamite. Connie’s donates profits to local organizations. And when you buy gift items in the shop, a portion of those profits also go to charities.
SHOP FOR GROCERIES
The Food Bank for Westchester supports approximately 200 hunger-relief centers throughout Westchester, distributing more than five million pounds of food annually including almost a million pounds of fresh local produce and eggs. In addition, the Food Bank rescues prepared and perishable foods from local restaurants, institutional cafeterias, and supermarkets that would otherwise be tossed away. Items especially in-demand are high-protein foods such as tuna, canned chicken, canned salmon, beans, and peanut butter. Next time you shop for groceries, pack a bag for your neighbors, too (358 Saw Mill River Rd, Millwood, 914-923-1100).
HELP THE LESS FORTUNATE
Family Services of Westchester offers 50 programs—the best known of which are the local chapters of Big Brothers-Big Sisters, AmeriCorps, and Head Start—that benefit 30,000 people in the county. FSA also has an intergenerational adult day program in Mount Kisco (My Second Home won a national award for its approach of serving seniors in conjunction with the Mount Kisco Day Care Center), mental health clinics, youth leadership programs, services for families affected by HIV/AIDS, and many other programs for seniors, children, families, and teens. Visit fsw.org or call (914) 937-2320.
ADOPT A FAMILY
Seven years ago, Hastings-on-Hudson resident Pam Koner saw a disturbing photo on the front page of the New York Times of an impoverished young girl in Pembroke, Illinois, sitting on a bare mattress, eating a watery soup. “As a mom, I was deeply moved,” she says. “I got up from my chair on my deck in lovely Westchester County and said to my own healthy, well-fed daughters: ‘I have to do something.’” That “something” is Family-to-Family, a national, grassroots hunger-relief organization that matches donor families to families in need. In the six years since its founding, more than 100 families in Hastings and Dobbs Ferry alone have signed up to help families both in Westchester and beyond on a monthly basis. Koner’s concept has spread across the country and there are now 40-plus chapters of donor communities that sponsor 17 communities in need. Donor families shop for and pack a box of food once a month for “their” family; Fed Ex ships the monthly boxes for free. Other families may opt to sign up online on the website to “cyber sponsor” a family, donating funds to purchase groceries along with a monthly care package of a children’s book, a non-food basic necessity (e.g., soap, shampoo, toothbrushes), and gently used clothing or blankets. What’s cool is that donors and recipients exchange letters, so the help feels very personal—and fulfilling. Visit family-to-family.org.
SHOP FOR A GOOD CAUSE
Make your purchases through GoodSearch.com or the online shopping mall GoodShop.com (which includes retailers such as Target, Apple, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble) and support your favorite charities without it costing you a cent! The prices are the same as going to the retailer directly, but by going through GoodShop, up to 37 percent of the purchase price is donated the user’s favorite cause. Local charities affiliated with this program include the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the March of Dimes, Morry’s Camp, Bet Am Shalom Synagogue, the Mount Kisco Elementary School Association, and the Pet Adoption League of Westchester County.
LEAVE FOOD WITH REALTORS
Food to Give was started last summer by local author Jill Brooke and enlists county realtors to collect food left behind in empty rental and sale properties, which is then donated to the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester. When going on vacation, homeowners also can drop off perishables with realtors, so they don’t go to waste. (To donate, contact Jill Brooke at email@example.com or the Boys & Girls Club at 914-666-8069.)
DELIVER SOUP AND SOAP
Hillside Food Outreach drops off food to more than 1,600 Westchester residents in need each month. Hillside also delivers diapers as well as personal-hygiene items. These non-food items are included because, if there isn’t money to buy food, most likely there isn’t money to buy shampoo. Volunteers deliver groceries to needy clients in teams of two; volunteer teams usually are given five to eight families to visit each month. Another way to help is by organizing a food drive or donating food and personal-hygiene items. This organization also has a monthly youth night, at which kids can get involved by helping pack food for delivery (914-747-0095).
Save the Earth
PICK UP LITTER
Bring a trash bag along on your walks; you never know what you will find. On a recent clean-up day in my community, a neighbor garnered a chandelier and a black lace Victoria’s Secret bra (along with a rusted washing machine, a number of tires, and an old outboard motor).
The county sponsors special recycling days for household waste that can’t be set out for curbside collection: e-waste, pesticides, appliances, etc. Visit westchestergov.com for drop-off days in the spring and fall. Added bonus: the Shred Mobile is available during these days to destroy personal documents while you watch (the result is recyclable, too!).
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