When you hear those silver bells ringing, walk the other way.
As Christmas draws nearer with each December day, it is necessary to remember the things most important in life. Not the soft snow, or twinkling lights, or the craze of last minute shopping in crowded, over-decorated malls, but goodwill, love and the holiday spirit of cheer and human connection. Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or the New Year, the following days are a time of giving back to your family, friends and neighbors. It may sound like a cheesy novelty card line, but the warm, fuzzy feeling you receive from giving is the best gift of all.
And when you give to people through a third party, you want to make sure your generous donation is going to a charity that is ethical and reflects your values of caring for everyone, no matter their ethnic background, gender identity or sexuality.
The Salvation Army, founded in 1865 as a part of the Protestant Christian Church, is arguably one of the largest charity organizations in the world. In the U.S., it has become synonymous with holiday giving due to its multitude of bell-ringers and “red kettles” set up in many cities around the country to collect spare change for those in need. However in the last 20 years, The Salvation Army has been criticized and even boycotted for its policies and members’ questionable actions regarding LGBT people.
While The Salvation Army has attempted to clean up its act, vehemently denying any bigotry and even opening a convincing page on its website about how not homophobic or transphobic they are, the fact remains that many part of the LGBT community have not had a good experience with volunteers and employees working for The Salvation Army. An article from The New York Times published in 2011 reveals that a homeless man and his husband were denied shelter until they ended their ‘sinful homosexual lifestyle.’ In addition to this, Salvation Army bell-ringers have reportedly discouraged LGBT people from donating and have made hurtful, offensive remarks towards members of the community.
Spokespeople for The Salvation Army have also made some questionable remarks about Christianity’s relationship with homosexuality, and The Salvation Army itself once requested that President Bush exempt religious charities receiving federal money from local anti-discrimination laws protecting gay people. In 2013, The Salvation Army deleted links to reparative therapy from their site at the insistence of an LGBT organization, Truth Wins Out. Links which were found on a supposedly archived page for sexual addiction resources.
Even though there is quite obviously a lot of good that The Salvation Army does, its standing with the LBGT community is overall fairly poor, and many allies and LGBT people alike feel very uncomfortable giving their time and money to an organization with a shady history.
Luckily, there are many other worthwhile charities that are honest, reputable and make it easy for you to donate your time and money to help people across the United States, as well as those overseas throughout the year. The following is a list of organizations and fundraisers that could use your support this holiday season.
Malala Fund: Started by the world’s youngest Nobel laureate in 2013, the Malala Fund seeks to empower girls through education, advocacy and female leadership. Through this outreach mission, Malala Yousafzai continues to fight bravely for women’s rights in a number of countries where women aren’t given the same access to learning.
- Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree: Prison Fellowship is an organization dedicated to rehabilitating, reaching out and giving hope to prisoners through their incarceration, and after. The Christian-based fellowship also advocates for criminal justice reform, and proportionate sentences for non-violent drug crimes. Their Angel Tree program ensures that the 2.7 million children in the U.S. with a parent in prison will feel loved and supported, and receive plenty of presents on Christmas day.
- charity: water: This charity, hence the name, aims to end world thirst for the 1/10 people worldwide who lack access to clean water. So far, through private donors who cover operating costs, charity: water has been able to crowd fund over 29,000 projects that have helped 8.4 million people, with 100% of the public’s donations going to setting up wells and providing areas around the world with fresh water. Charity: water even offers people the opportunity to pledge their birthday for clean water, allowing friends and family to donate to the cause rather than buying presents.
- The Trevor Project: This is a crisis center and call line for LGBTQ+ youth who need emotional and financial support through hard times. Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy award-winning film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) people under 25. All donations fund staff efforts to be there for those in need.
- #FlintKids Christmas: It’s been four years since the Flint, Michigan water crisis began, and 11-year-old activist, advocate and philanthropist Mari Copeny (known as Little Miss Flint) is continuing to run prolific campaigns to support the community and kids of Flint. Mari, famous for her happy energy and generosity beyond her years, has been instrumental in passing out 700,000 bottles of clean water, giving backpacks and school supplies to the students of Flint, creating Easter baskets and raising money for a Christmas party in 2017. This year, Mari wants to give back to the community even more by bringing Christmas to over 1000 Flint kids, and she needs YOUR help.
- Toys For Tots: If giving money isn’t your thing, give a toy! The Marine-led program, which began in 1947, has locations all over the country where you can go to drop off toys for children in need. Each year Marines reach out to social welfare agencies, churches and other local agencies that identify impoverished children in the community so that toys can be properly distributed. The site makes it easy to either request a toy, or find spots where you can give nearest to you. In total Toys For Tots has given toys to over 251 million children.
Photo: The Salvation Army via Flickr