Americans may not have jobs. We may not have a lot of money. But there's one thing most of us have -- extra stuff.
One other thing we have in America is plenty of charitable organizations interested in taking that extra stuff off our hands. So while you're spring cleaning this year, consider combining your efforts with a recognition of Memorial Day. Donate all that extra stuff to one of these worthy nonprofits that support our troops, veterans and their families.
For a comprehensive list of veterans affairs and organizations, visit olive-drab.com. (All listed organizations are not-for-profit and donations are tax deductible. See the end of the post for IRS guidelines.)
1. Vietnam Veterans Association
What could be easier than curbside service? The VVA will come to your home and pick up donations of vehicles, RVs, boats, clothing and households good, which they then sell via a bidding process to qualified retailers. More than 65 percent of the proceeds directly support Vietnam vets and their families.
VVA is the only congressionally chartered Vietnam Veterans organization. For more than 50 years, the VVA has fostered, encouraged and promoted improvement of the condition of Vietnam veterans. The VVA also supports homeless shelters; substance-abuse education projects and crime-prevention campaigns; sponsorship of youth sports, Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts, Big Brothers/Big Sisters; and relief to other communities affected by natural disasters and chronic poverty.
You Should Know: More than 3 million people visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., each year. The thousands of mementos and flowers left each week by visitors are donated to the Smithsonian Museum and displayed on a rotating basis.
2. Disabled American Veterans
The 1.2 million member DAV accepts donations of clothing and household items at its thrift stores across the nation and via the Internet. Visit the DAV gift-planning calculator for a personalized illustration of benefits.
The DAV's primary mission is to help veterans and their families through the complex claims process to receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Defense and other government agencies.
You Should Know: The DAV receives no cash or grants from the federal government. In fact, government budget cut-backs have forced DAV programs to fill the void left by these cut-backs.
3. American Veterans (AMVETS)
AMVETS Thrift Stores throughout the country accept donations of used clothing, household goods and toys. Funds raised support AMVETS key role in legislation impacting veterans. Other programs include student scholarships, the Special Olympics, the Healing Heroes Program and other veteran-support programs.
You Should Know: In 2008 alone, 2,530 AMVETS, AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary, and Sons of AMVETS provided a total of 172,489 hours of voluntary service worth $3,492,902.
4. The Military Order of the Purple Heart
This non-profit organization will pick up vehicles, computer software, wheel chairs, clothing, household items from most locations in the United States. Schedule a pick-up at VeteranPickup.org.
One recipient of funds raised is the Purple Heart's Virtual Training program, which provides call-center and help-desk job training for wounded and disabled veterans. These job skills provided allow vets to succeed in high-demand technical positions and maximize their employment opportunities. This year, VVTI is also offering training to spouses of active-duty members in the armed forces.
You Should Know: The free book "Tears of a Warrior: A Family's Story of Combat and Living with PTSD" is first-hand look at the physical and mental challenges faced by returning warriors.
In three easy steps your gently used items can make a big difference in the lives of America's veterans and their families. Step 1: Pack acceptable donation items in boxes and bags. Step 2: Schedule a donation pick up. 3. Leave clearly labeled donations outside your home on the designated pick-up day. Rain or shine, the driver will pick-up your donation and leave a tax-deduction receipt.
You Should Know: PickUpPlease is a Vietnam Veterans of America program.
6. Sew Much Comfort
Sew Much Comfort will take your old cloth remnants (minimum of three yards) and turn them into clothing suitable for troops recovering from bullet wounds, burns, head and limb injuries and amputations. Without such specially adapted clothing, drafty hospital gowns are the only option for many patients undergoing treatment.
Volunteer seamstresses also are in high demand. If you're no good with needle and thread, Sew Much Comfort also appreciates donations of new basketball shorts, heavy-weight cotton or cotton blend t-shirts, crew-neck sweatshirts, long-sleeve t-shirts and pajama bottoms.
You Should Know: Between 2001 and 2009, the Surgeon General reported 1,286 amputations were suffered by American troops and more than 9,099 troops were evacuated for medical reasons.
7. Homeless Shelters
Veterans from WWII to Afghanistan and Iraq make up more than 30 percent of America's homeless population. The majority are housed and served by community based homeless shelters, which gratefully accept donations of nonperishable food, clothing and personal-care items. Go to HomelessShelterDirectory.org to find a shelter in your area.
You Should Know: The current foreclosure rate and recession have overflowed many shelters, making the need even more acute. Homeless female veterans should visit WomenShelters.org for gender-specific assistance.
8. Kitchen Table Gang
This "rag tag" bunch of military types isn't looking for money or trying to sell you anything. They just want help to make life a bit more pleasant for hospitalized vets and let active-duty soldiers know they aren't forgotten. You can help by sending a letter, care package, greeting card, magazine, newspaper or book to the attention of the Volunteer Services Officer at any VA hospital or medical facility. Or you can send a care package to a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine stationed overseas.
The U.S. Post Office offers flat-rate packages for $8.10 each. You can also request a free Care Kit 4 from the post office. Each kit contains boxes, plastic envelopes, labels, customs forms and priority mail tape.
You Should Know: Useful items you may not think of sending include baby wipes, sunflower seeds, zip-close plastic bags, flea collars, baseball caps, cooling bandannas, multi-vitamins, inflatable pillows, beef jerky and small balloons (to cover the ends of weapons).
9. Soldiers Angels
Retailers can donate overstocked items for care packages sent to active-duty troops. Check the Soldiers Angels Wish List for a list of desired items.
Private citizens also can get involved by giving the gift of time. The "Adopt a Soldier" program asks volunteer angels commit to writing one letter per week to your assigned soldier and sending at least one home-made or ready-made care package per month. More than 1,000 heroes are waiting to be partnered with an angel.
You Should Know: Flip flops and backpacks are two of the most frequently requested items on the Soldiers Angels Wish List.
10. Overseas Coupon Program
The OCP serves military families by forwarding your coupons and downloaded coupon codes from merchants to overseas military bases. These bundles of coupons are placed on tables, at the PX and Commissary, or handed out for use by military members and families on base. This helps the family save valuable dollars and stretch their budget. (This is not a tax-deductible charity.)
You Should Know: The OCP sent $2.074 million in coupons to overseas military bases in 2009 and $10.492 million in 2008.
11. Homes for Our Troops
This rapidly growing non-profit builds specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans at no cost to the recipients. The organization needs donations of materials, equipment and land, as well as trained and general-labor volunteers.
You Should Know: The "Kids for Our Troops" website helps kids become involved in awareness-raising programs and fundraisers for "Homes for Our Troops."
12. The Salvation Army
Many of The Salvation Army's program help support our troops and veterans, so it deserves a listing here. Your tax-deductible donation of clothing, electronics, sporting equipment, furniture and other household goods will help support more than 30 million people around the world. Salvation Army programs deal with disaster relief; prisoner, drug and alcohol rehab; fighting human trafficking, youth camps, elderly services and much more.
The Salvation Army also accepts donations of airline miles and vehicles.
You Should Know: In "Strawberry Fields Forever," John Lennon is referring to a Salvation Army orphanage in England. Lennon is said to have played with childhood friends in the trees behind Strawberry Fields when he was a boy.
13. National Moment of Remembrance
One thing we can all donate on Memorial Day is a minute of our time. The National Moment of Remembrance asks Americans to pause at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day and honor those who've made the supreme sacrifice four our country.
You Should Know: The idea for the Moment was born when children touring the Nation's Capital were asked what Memorial Day means. They responded, "That's the day the pool opens."
2009 IRS Charitable Deductions Guidelines