My husband and I stopped exchanging gifts a few years ago. Instead, we make donations and do something fun, like see a play. It’s great: no shiny new books to add to the teetering tower of unread tomes, no scarves to add to the overflowing basket of same, and especially no complicated kitchen equipment to gaze up reproachfully from next to that never-used air fryer I got from a neighbor on Freecycle. Whether or not you give presents to your loved ones, here are some suggestions for your end-of-year donations.
1. GiveDirectly. What do low-income people need? Money! That’s the idea behind GiveDirectly, which sends stipends of around $40 a month for three years to poor villagers in Uganda, Liberia, and other African countries. It is amazing what a difference this small sum makes. For the price of your weekly deli sandwich and soda, recipients can pay their children’s school fees, fix up their houses, start a small business, or get medical care.
2. The Bail Project. The cash bail system is completely unfair. Got the money? Go home. Don’t? Stay locked up. Not only does this keep jails filled with people who have not been convicted of a crime, it prevents those people from effectively working on their cases, separates them from their families, jobs, and schooling, and can destroy their lives even if they are eventually found not guilty. The Bail Project is simple: It pays your bail, and after trial, the money goes back into the kitty to help the next person. So far, it’s bailed out more than 26,000 people. Help them help more.
3. Afghan Women’s Fund. Remember Afghan women? Despite vicious repression by the Taliban, which bans them from even visiting amusement parks, they continue to strive for education, health care, and basic fairness in one of the worst countries in the world for women. While it has to work carefully—two of its volunteers have been murdered and one was tortured—the AWF perseveres, sending school supplies for girls to use at home, helping women use their sewing skills to earn a living, and keeping local elementary schools going. Plans are in the works for a new program that could put education within reach for literally tens of thousands of Afghan girls and young women. “The struggle continues,” says Fahima Gaheez, AWF’s founder and leader, “and we shall overcome this brutality.”
4. Abortion-related funds. There are a lot of these, and the National Network of Abortion Funds has a list where you can find ones in your state. A few specific funds to check out are up next.
5. The Brigid Alliance helps women and others who need to travel for abortion. It pays for everything but the procedure itself: transportation, lodging, food, child care, whatever it takes.
6. Indigenous Women Rising is the only Native American abortion fund. The need is great—because of the Hyde Amendment, the procedure is not performed on reservations, and many Native Americans are low-income and live far from clinics.
7. ARC-Southeast helps with procedures, travel, and logistical support in the great abortion desert that is the US South. With abortion bans proliferating since Dobbs, the pressure is on—and increasing.
8. Wellspring Health Access. Even before Dobbs, super-red Wyoming had no real abortion clinic, just one lone provider prescribing pills for early terminations. Julie Burkhart aims to change that by rebuilding a clinic in Casper—which unfortunately was destroyed by an arsonist before it could open. Help Burkhart launch a mobile clinic to provide medication and first trimester procedures while Wellspring rebuilds, and help her fight in the courts to set aside an anti-abortion trigger law from pre-Roe days. Wyomingites need abortion care too!
9. Amazon Watch. The world is going up in flames even as you read these words—so don’t wait till next holiday season to support those trying to save it. Amazon Watch fights to protect the Amazon region and the indigenous people who live there from multiple threats—mining, ranching, oil production. It does double duty, joining environmentalism with human rights.
10. Black Voters Matter. Do they ever! Without Black voters, we’d be deep into Trump’s second term and about to endure six years of Senator Herschel Walker. This group fights disenfranchisement and other obstacles to voting, registers voters, and works to increase enthusiasm and turnout. Unlike many state Democratic parties, BVM is in African American communities year-round and for the long haul. Fight racism and support democracy with a gift to these grassroots organizers.
11. Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Barbara Ehrenreich died last September at 81, which was way too soon, but her fighting spirit lives on in her books and articles, the many people she inspired, and in this organization, which she cofounded and supported for many years. EHRP funds gritty long-form journalism about working-class struggles—and victories—and copublishes the resulting articles with major news outlets like USA Today, The Guardian, and Mother Jones. As the news business becomes more and more corporate and upscale, we need these stories more than ever.
12. Freedom From Religion Foundation. With six out of nine Supreme Court justices being right-wing Christians, there’s no time like the present to stand up for the separation of church and state. The FFRF fights the good fight, with lawsuits and public campaigns and, OK, some jokes and snark too. (Full disclosure: I’m on the honorary board.) Join us!
13. Liber: A Feminist Review. There used to be so many feminist literary magazines, but most have folded. Liber is a fresh and sparkling new one, just a year old. (Truth in advertising: I’m the poetry editor.) We’ve already published some fantastic writers: Bessie Head, Anne Carson, Catherine Stimpson, Alicia Ostriker, and more. Next year looks even better, but we can’t stay alive without your help. Subscribe now for challenging reviews, essays, interviews, fiction, and verse by poets old and young.
14. Your local food bank, public library, public school, park, women’s shelter, and more. Look around you. There is need everywhere. I live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a prosperous neighborhood, but several times a week I see long lines of people gathered for food distributions at church pantries. The Free Store held every few months at a local church is always packed with people needing clothes, toiletries, and more. Have you become less social and more lonely because of Covid? Volunteering isn’t just a way to help your community—it’s a great way to get out of the house and make friends too.