Holiday Event- Helping Women in our Community (one cup of coffee at a time!)

On Saturday, December 4th, I attended the “Extreme Esteem Holiday Gift Coffee Party and Fundraiser.” The event held in the Prudential Unlimited Realty building at 673 Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, welcomed people from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

I walked into the big room at around noon where about 60 people were walking around, trying free coffee samples, and purchasing bags of coffee and small holiday gifts. Christmas music played, while red and green decorations filled the room.

Lisa Matthews, a volunteer selling some of the coffee, told me that Extreme Esteem Coffee is blended and roasted locally at the Carpe Diem woman-owned coffee company in Maine. It is made fresh from a great blend of Costa Rican, Indonesian and French Roasted Kenyan Beans.
For those purchasing the coffee, bags were available in whole bean or ground, Decaf or Regular. Every bag purchased supports “Self Esteem Boston’s” programs for women in shelters and transitional programs in the Boston area. Half a pound (8 oz) is $10, and one pound (16 oz) is $20.

Anya Mafoniate, a 25-year-old Boston resident, bought 5 half-pound bags. She told me that she bought them as stocking stuffer gifts for her friends. “CELEBRATE YOURSELF” note cards and tee-shirts were also on sale.

Matthews told me that “Self Esteem Boston” works hard year round to help support struggling women in our community. The Holiday event is a convenient way to spread their cause, and to get people to come out and purchase gifts that can benefit these programs. The women of “Self Esteem Boston” are very excited to have “Extreme Esteem Coffee” as part of their fundraising plan.

At this event, they also had a Holiday Gift Raffle, where each ticket book cost $5. Prizes included a 2-night stay on the Cape, Theatre tickets and a Red Sox autographed photo.

Overall, the event looked like a success. People filtered in and out all day and “Self Esteem Boston” seemed to earn a sizable amount of money. Although this event wasn’t directly geared towards helping those living in poverty over the winter season, it used the time of year as a way to promote their year-round goals. Matthews also told me that it’s nice for the women in these programs to know that people are thinking of them around Christmas time. She said that it truly means the world to them.

It is obvious that Christmas time is a great opportunity to organize events such as this one, where people can come together and enjoy an afternoon of holiday festivities, while supporting an overall great cause. Everyone seemed really eager to support the charity group.

Mafoniate told me she really enjoyed the event because she knew that everyone there wanted the same thing that she did- a chance to help struggling women that aren’t as privileged as her. She thinks it’s important for women to support other women and to help those less fortunate get on their feet and steer their life in the right direction. Everyone was celebrating the Holiday Season at the event, but she told me that it was nice to know the true reasons why everyone was there. Plus, she said, “The coffee is great!”

The event was sponsored by Prudential Unlimited Realty, State
Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, Representative Liz Malia, Mayor Tomas Menino, Wainwright Bank & Trust Co. and City Feed.

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Getting Personal with Volunteers

‘Tis the season for giving.

While many of us may be short on funds this holiday season, a way we can always give back to our community is by volunteering our time. I previously listed a few ways that you can give back this time of year, whether it be donating toys, winter clothes or money, attending an event, or volunteering for certain charities.

To all those broke college students like myself, many charities and nonprofit organizations throughout Boston are always accepting volunteers, especially over the next few weeks. I was walking down Boylston Street yesterday, and I saw a woman ringing the Salvation Army bell. This is the classic holiday volunteer gig, and it’s not too late to take part in this 100-year tradition. Linda Johnstone is a 56-year-old retired high school math teacher, and this is her third year volunteering as the bell ringer.

“Both my kids are away at college and this gives me something rewarding to do while Christmas is approaching,” she says.

She is all smiles as people walk by dumping change into the big red pot. She volunteers once a week for the month of December. She says that standing outside collecting money for a few hours is very fulfilling.

She laughs as she says, “I also get to meet terrific people.”

Although this is mostly a positive experience for the volunteer bell ringers, there are some frustrations that come along with the job. Linda tells me that a number of retailers such as Best Buy and Target, have issues with the Salvation ringers that park in front of their doors. They say that it can disrupt and intimidate customers and they don’t want to have to choose between competing charities. Just a week ago, on November 30th, two people nabbed a Salvation Army kettle right from a bell ringer in Norfolk Va.

“It’s ridiculous. This is a good cause, people need to recognize what a good thing this is, instead of worrying about consumerism,” she complains. “Its hard for some people to step back from their hectic lives. There’s so much suffering in this world, everyone should focus on being a little less selfish. Especially this time of year.”

All in all, this job makes Linda very happy, and she recommends it to anyone who has some free time. It’s easy and rewarding…and who doesn’t love ringing a bell?!
To learn more, contact the Boston office at 617-542-5420.

Donating is another simple way to give back this holiday season. Something such as a pair of mittens or a hat might seem so minimal to most people, but you’d be surprised how much of a difference these can make in someone’s life. A lot of us take warm clothes for granted during the winter season, but so many people around Boston don’t have the necessities to keep warm and healthy in the cold.

Abby Maroon, a junior at Boston University in the School of Communication, decided to take this cause a step further, and formed a winter clothing drive among her group of friends.

She tells me, “I figured that I knew enough people that would be able to donate a few things, so if we all pitched in, we could really help out.”

This is the first year Abby has decided to organize a small clothing drive at BU, but she did something similar in high school. She says that there was a bin at her school in Cleveland all December, and it was evident how much that helped. She has her own vehicle here at BU, so it’s easy for her to transport bags of clothes.

“Especially at an institution like BU, where the kids here are so fortunate, it makes sense for all of us to at least do this. It’s not a lot to ask, and all of my friends have been really great and generous,” she says.

Abby and her friends plan on donating their clothes to the “Friends of Boston’s Homeless” at the Long Island Shelter Clinic. They will drop off the goods before they leave for Christmas break on the 20th.

It’s so easy to get a group of friends, coworkers, or classmates together to form toy or clothing drives such as Abby’s. Both Linda and Abby are proof that it is so simple for ordinary people to lend a significant hand to people in need. So pick up the phone, check out my map, or go online to find options that fit into your schedule this season!

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Where you can donate and volunteer this Season

Check out my map of local charities around Boston that give many options of how to help out this holiday season. If you’d like to volunteer, check out the angel icons. If you’d like to donate to a certain organization, check out the gift icons, and if you’d like to attend a special holiday event that helps give back to the homeless, check out the Christmas tree icon. I’ve listed many different options, so I’m sure you’ll find something that suits your interests and schedules!

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Homeless for the Holidays

This is the time of year for family, food, gifts and merriment. Thanksgiving and Christmas cheer can be spotted through store windows, street decorations, music and smiling faces. However, what happens if you have no family? What happens if you don’t have certain necessities such as food, money and shelter? I’m sure the Holiday season seems a lot less merry.

Some organizations choose to host specific events to raise money, goods, and awareness for homeless people living in Boston- particularly during the Holiday season. Throughout the month, dinners, lunches, and activities are available all around the city. Here are some great events I’ve found that people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy. Whether you’re a parent, college student, or just looking to help, I’m sure you’ll find something that will interest you. These events are all held within the next couple of weeks and are available at different times and dates.

If you’re looking to spend big bucks, there are benefits such as the 8th Annual “Home for the Holidays,” hosted by the Travelers Aid Family Services. On Thursday, December 9th, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., there will be elegant cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, along with a keynote addressed by Mayor Thomas Menino. The event will be held at Parkman House in Boston and tickets are $500 per person. All proceeds will go towards the agency’s programs that work towards helping underprivileged families regain their self-sufficiency. (For tickets call 617-542-7286 x249)

For people who love to party, Crawl in Boston is hosting the “12 Bars of Christmas” on Saturday, December 13th. The event will be supporting the Horizons for Homeless Children Charity. People of all ages (over 21) are welcome to join the annual bar crawl that raises money and goods for the local charity, one drink at a time. Horizons for Homeless Children Charity provides opportunities for underprivileged children that are otherwise not always available. They help stabilize families and strive to break the cycle of homelessness, especially during this season. They are asking for $5 to attend, and the proceeds of your donations will go straight to the organization. Everyone who donates will receive:
– Crawl in Boston nametag
– Crawl in Boston Beverage Koozie
– Crawl in Boston Bar Map
– Crawl in Boston Stamp- to guarantee drink specials and no covers
You can RSVP on the Facebook event ASAP, and the schedule will be released as the event gets closer, so keep checking!

For families with children, the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers are hosting “The gingerbread tea program” at Swan’s Café from Friday, November 14th through Friday, December 12th. People are welcome daily between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. for after school Gingerbread and Tea. Tickets are $32.50 for adults and $16.50 for children. Children are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy that will be donated to a local organization committed to improving the lives of homeless kids and their families. They’ll get a special gingerbread man cookie to take home as a thank you.

Even local college sports teams are striving for change. The Harvard Men’s hockey team is partnering with Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program to host a family holiday skate on Saturday, December 18th. The goal is to collect winter clothing items for area homeless men, women and children. The skate will last from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Harvard’s Bright Hockey Center in Cambridge. Admission is free with any donation of new winter clothing items. Other activities available on this day are a visit from Santa, face painting and holiday arts and crafts. (For more information phone: 617-495-5593.)

So maybe an event isn’t your thing? Or maybe you’re just too busy to attend any of these occasions. There’s still many different ways people in Boston can help provide for homeless people during the next few weeks. Donating or purchasing certain gifts through charities are quick and easy ways to lend a hand.

Friends of Boston’s Homeless is a year-round, local organization that is offering holiday cards for $1. With orders of 50 or more, you can even personalize them. The proceeds will go towards their cause of providing for the area’s less fortunate. They are currently working on projects such as “Operation Sock Drop,” which encourages people to donate at least 1 brand-new (or gently used) pair of socks to their sock drive. Their “Warm hands, Warm Heart’s” project also asks people to donate winter hats, scarves, or a pair of gloves or mittens. Participants can organize sock drives and other winter clothes drives at their school, place of work or even with friends and family. You can feel good about helping keep the less fortunate safe, warm and healthy. (Check out their organization at http://www.fobh.org or call for more information at 617-534-6148.)

The Action for Boston Development Inc. (ABCD Boston) is asking the community to help out with their cause. They’re accepting donated toys up until Wed. December 23rd, and can be delivered to any ABCD community site including the central office at 178 Tremont, Boston. (Check out their organization at http://www.bostonabcd.org or call for more information call 617-348-6559.)

Christmas in the City is collecting toys to distribute to homeless children in the Boston area. They even make donating accessible online. You can find the Amazon wishlist by clicking here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/33MK1K24C4WVJ
To help volunteer, email: volunteer@christmasinthecity.org
Other donations are welcome at http://www.justgive.org
(For more information, visit http://www.christmasinthecity.org, or call 617-542-6611.)

If you don’t have a lot to give, you can always volunteer your time. Places such as St. Francis House at 39 Boylston St., Boston (617-542-4211) and Pine Street Inn Inc. at 444 Harrison Ave., Boston (617-482-4944) are organizations that supply shelter and food for Boston’s homeless. They accept walk in volunteers on the weekends, and you will definitely leave feeling more fulfilled.

So there; a variety of great opportunities to help give back this holiday season. With the recent passing of Thanksgiving, we give thanks for all that we have. As Christmas approaches, we anticipate all that this special day has to offer. These few weeks are a time for all these great things, but we rarely remember those who don’t have these privileges. It is so simple to take just a little bit of time out of your day to provide what seem to be such ordinary things. In this entry, I’ve given a variety of ways you can make this possible! Stay informed over the next few weeks as I explore some of these organizations and report on the differences they really make. Stay tuned, and Merry Christmas!

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BU Chaplain, Sister Olga devotes her life to the homeless

Check out my human interest video on BU Chaplain, Sister Olga. She lived without a home two times in her life while in her home country, Iraq. Living under such horrible conditions, she developed her faith. She now dedicates her life to helping those who suffer. She has befriended many homeless people, and makes sure that they feel loved.

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How to Volunteer the Easy Way!

Here is a news-you-can-use slideshow on how to volunteer the easy way! St. Francis House, locating in the heart of downtown Boston, welcomes hundreds of volunteers a year. Whether  you volunteer in the kitchen, the clothing room, or tutor guests, St. Francis House makes it fast and easy. You wont leave without feeling like you’ve made a difference… 

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BU Gives Back

During the first week of October, BU sororities and Fraternities volunteered their time and money to help give back to Allston and Brighton’s underprivileged communities [audio http://archive.rhynewservice.com/audio/BAC-101018-bugivesback.mp3

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