Giving Locally

Desperate flood victims, a six-year-old taking the wrong bullet, an elderly veteran begging on the median strip—every day we are bombarded with images of people in need both nearby and far away. While these images can be overwhelming, there are small ways to help that can actually benefit others on a much larger scale. As Buddhist peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh notes, “it is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual,” but instead take the form of “a community practicing understanding and loving-kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we do for the survival of the earth.”

This month, just in time for the holidays, we’re spotlighting a few easy ways to give back right here in Marin. After all, charity should start at home, right?

A Home Away from Homelessness
Founded in 1994, this organization now serves more than 250 homeless and formerly homeless children and 200 families through five programs—Beach House, School House, Youth Leaders, Mentor Program, and Educational Advocacy—in San Francisco and Marin.  
The Beach House is a cozy cottage in the Marin Headlands where, five days a week, Home Away brings small groups of homeless children ages 5 to 17 from local shelters. “This is often these kids’ only respite from the harsh realities of homelessness,” says Home Away founder Jeanie Kortum. “The Beach House gives the kids a sense of place to be in life, a place where they belong. And the volunteers provide love and encouragement that gives them a sense of safety, home and childhood that they might not otherwise have.”

These are some items that would be particularly appreciated at the Beach House this time of year: soccer balls, volleyballs, footballs, basketballs, badminton rackets, board games (for elementary/middle school age), dress-up clothes and costumes, puppets, kid-friendly binoculars, sand toys, kites, movie passes and gift cards for Target, Barnes and Noble, Borders, the Gap, Old Navy, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Cole Hardware and Home Depot. (Please clear your donation in advance with [email protected] to avoid overlaps.)

The Beach House needs volunteers as well as donations; a one-day training session is required. For information and an updated wish list, call 415.561.5533 or visit

Holiday Clothing Swap
Put those clothes your family no longer wears, cluttering up your closets, to good use. Two local organizations help disadvantaged people find economic independence by providing appropriate work-wear, training and more. Image for Success, founded in 1999, has dressed more than 5,300 women, men and children in Marin, providing interview outfits and two-week wardrobes, and also operates a “gently worn” clothing store in San Rafael (1557 4th Street, between E and F streets). Image for Success and its clients could use these items: kids’ coats, shoes, jeans (all sizes), packaged (new) boys’ and girls’ underpants, tights and socks, fabric freshener, shoe polish, lint removers, gift cards for Target, Ross and Marshalls, tall kitchen trash bags and large garbage bags, medium and large shopping bags.

Dress for Success is a global organization that helps economically disadvantaged women acquire and retain jobs and thrive in the mainstream workplace. Since its 2005 San Francisco opening in the basement of St. Mary’s Church in San Francisco, the group has given assistance to more than 2,000 Bay Area women and also helped them with their careers. All was made possible by local donations, San Francisco executive director Renée Surcouf says. “Non-monetary support is just as important as financial support,” she adds. “We are fully dependent on donations from the community.” This year Dress for Success is looking for plus-size women’s suits as well as accessories, bags and shoes.

To lend an even bigger hand, arrange with the two groups to host a holiday clothing swap party and invite a group of friends to bring unwanted items from their closet to sell. Clothes are priced in preset categories—for example, a $100 bin, a $50 bin, a $25 bin. Guests can shop, enjoy wine and cheese and help local women all at the same time. Proceeds go to Image for Success or Dress for Success, as do the items left unsold at the end.

Don’t have time for a party? Give directly by contacting or

Serve the Seniors
For over 50 years Whistlestop has been serving Marin’s elderly and people with disabilities in a multitude of ways including providing meals, transportation, legal counseling, tax preparation, multilingual support and classes in exercise, language and computer skills. Whistlestop creates active community members and steps in when and wherever Marin county older adults need help.

The organization is looking for the following:
• Lunch servers daily from 11:30 to 1:30 at the Jackson Café at 930 Tamalpais Avenue, San Rafael.
• Lounge hostesses to visit with those who come to the Whistlestop location in San Rafael.
• Resource office help answering telephones, assisting with general questions about senior services in Marin County, light computer work, and making appointments for tax season and legal counseling.
• Tax consultant volunteers: Annually during tax season several people volunteer as tax consultants. All these volunteers are given training by the IRS to certify them as VITA consultants. The volunteers help low-income older adults with filing their basic taxes.

Learn more at

Smart Service

Wondering where to volunteer? The Catalista smart-phone app, listed as a “top 10 app to make a difference” by, locates real-time opportunities to help out no matter where you are. Available for iPhone, iPod touch and Android, the user-friendly app connects you with ways to donate your time that day, weekend or month; helps you invite Facebook friends to volunteer along with you; and lets you track your impact and rate your volunteering experience. Choose from over 200,000 options across the United States. 

“Catalista for iPhone was created to help reverse the falling volunteering rates and what the National Conference on Citizenship has (termed) a ‘civic recession,’” says founder and activist Catalina Ruiz-Healy. Research from the Corporation of Community and National Service has found that since 2001, volunteering rates have fallen 27 percent, costing the nonprofit sector roughly $77 billion and the equivalent in time of nearly 3 million full-time jobs. Ruiz-Healy believes, “it will be easier for people to discover and connect with ways to help in their communities through a smart phone rather than a desktop computer. Catalista’s Facebook integration makes it fun to encourage friends to get offline and lend a hand in the recovery of our neighborhoods and local nonprofits.”