Giving Back during the Holidays

With the holidays upon us, giving is in the air. Besides gifts for friends and family, many folks like to contribute to their favorite charities as a way to give back. We’ve profiled five local charities and five national ones that help improve the lives of those less fortunate. Choosing one to support with your family is a great way to spend time together while giving back.


Big Brothers Big Sisters San Diego County

With the intent of “Changing Perspectives. Changing Lives” San Diego’s Big Brothers Big Sisters have helped shaped children in need. For 55 years the San Diego chapter of this national organization has matched “Bigs” (the mentor) and “Littles” (a child living with adversity). This partnership enables them to grow to their fullest capability. Each adult mentor supports, encourages and guides their mentee, forming meaningful and often lasting relationships that can span a lifetime. By capitalizing on those characteristics and interests that are identified and encouraged, facilitating hope and planting the seeds of healthy self-esteem and acceptance, many children grow up to live fulfilling and productive lives.

Each pair meets for several hours each week for fun and rewarding activities. Time commitments can differ depending on program activities. Possibilities include Community Mentoring, Sports Bigs, Operation Bigs and Amachi Mentoring. Additional programs include Site-Based Programs, Operation Bigs, High School Bigs and Beyond School Walls. To donate time, treasure and talent, visit their website at


Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank

Serving over 370,000 people monthly, the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank is the largest hunger-relief distribution outlet in the county. Their remarkable efforts are made possible through group donations, acquisitions from food manufacturers, food retailers, the agricultural sector, numerous food drives, the USDA and generous individual financial contributions. The San Diego Food Bank seeks to provide “protein-rich” foods, fresh produce, and dry staple foods with a long shelf life such as legumes, oatmeal, and rice.

The Food Bank operates with about 28,000 volunteers annually who sort and distribute food to those in need. The acquisition, storage, organization, and distribution functions through over 300 nonprofit partner organizations including soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless and residential shelters, low-income day care centers, youth programs and daycare centers in 183 distribution sites.


Make-A-Wish San Diego County

A child with a life-threatening medical condition can summon untold strength and courage when inspired. And sometimes it can make all the difference in battling their condition. Why? It is scientifically proven that boosting the human spirit can boost the body’s ability to fight diseases. Even in the event of a terminal illness, bringing joy to a child is a gift they and family members treasure forever. These are the guiding principles behind the Make-A-Wish program. Donated resources from individuals, fundraisers, and contributions from other entities provide the raw ingredients fueling love and compassion for these children’s wishes.

Wishes are as wide-ranging and unique as the children themselves. Wishes include hot air balloon rides, childhood celebrity visits, themed parties for a child’s family and friends to a trip to the Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C. Truly, the list is endless and each essential. Wish requests go through a four-step process that determines their ability to be granted. To affect a child’s life, there is ample opportunity to support the work Make-A-Wish San Diego provides to the most medically vulnerable. One time and ongoing donations are indispensable, as are the volunteers who help make wishes come true. Please consider donating airline miles, give matching gifts, in-kind donations and more.


San Diego Center For The Blind

Operating for nearly 50 years, The San Diego Center for the Blind (SDCB) facilitates restorative vision when possible and offers living strategies for those who have lost their sight or are losing it due to accident or degenerative disease. The goal is to gain and/or preserve independence. With training, technology, social and psychological tools, the center has helped thousands of individuals stay in their own homes and lead healthy, satisfying lives. Diseases such as macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, stroke and diabetic retinopathy are the leading cause of vision impairment and/or adult blindness that SDCB addresses providing free training and transportation services.

Programs include magnifiers, special lighting, accessible computer hardware and software and more. The staff teaches independent living skills and mobility strategies such as white cane use. They also provide counseling through vision loss stages for a satisfying adjustment. Donate one time gifts, make recurring donations, planned to give, and/or volunteer. In fact, vision-impaired volunteers comprise nearly half of the staff modeling successful independent living themselves.


Support The Enlisted Project

Support the Enlisted Project, STEP for short has been helping military families in Southern California for decades. Their mission consists of helping junior active duty enlisted members, families, and veterans achieve financial stability and sufficiency. With the largest global military population of 91,000 right here in San Diego County, these military families are in the lower six pay grades, with 55,000 considered low-income by HUD standards. When or if financial crises arise, STEP provides much-needed resources to pay for critical expenses. Approximately 37,000 rely on food assistance. Financial counseling is also provided by STEP, an essential tool that helps families adjust to the high cost of living in San Diego.

Education and grants for active duty families and veterans honorably discharged in the last 18 months also qualify for support. STEP draws on a rich network of donors, receives contributions from individuals, as well as community groups. Fundraising events, personal donations, and in-kind contributions provide operational, grant and educational services for all branches of the military.


Compassion International

Just like the song, compassion is “more than a feeling.” It is an act of understanding that reaches out to help suffering children around the world. Compassion International has been acting from a place of compassion for decades, matching children in third world countries and situations with donors willing to help. As a child-advocacy ministry, the organization offers hope to children living in poverty by providing healthy meals and education, saving one child at a time through fundamental resources necessary for survival.

Compassionate individuals sponsor a child on a monthly basis with a specified amount and establish a long distance relationship in the process. They make a caring emotional connection through mail and correspondence. In this way, hope is provided in equal or greater amounts than money itself, though both are needed. For additional information on how to help a child survive poverty, please visit


Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

With decades of research on gorillas and “friendships” made with some of them, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International continues the work Fossey began decades ago. With teams of staff and volunteers in the field, a four-pronged approach focuses on learning from and providing for these animals, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. Daily protection of the mountain gorillas is first and foremost. The mountain gorillas are the only endangered primate population that has grown due to the fund’s critical work. Second is scientific research, with their greatest accomplishment to date centered at the Karisoke Research Center in Africa.

The third focus is working with local educational groups and partnerships to empower the next generation of conservationists. And lastly, the fund works with and vitalizes the nearby human community, believing they are fundamental to not only mountain gorilla survival, but also their own, with a motto of “Helping People. Saving Gorillas.” For additional information on how to contribute this holiday season, please visit


Drug Policy Alliance

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) works to promote a just society “in which the use and regulation of drugs are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights,” recognizing that the sovereignty of people over mind and bodies is an inalienable right people possess. Comprised of a broad coalition of supporters, from individuals to former professionals within law enforcement, legal communities, medical constituents and others, DPA seeks to eliminate disproportionate harm to young people and people of color. They also see the failed policies of the War on Drugs as adding to criminal risk within the U.S. instead of reducing it.

The DPA focuses on reducing criminalization of drug policy, promoting responsible and equitable legal regulation of marijuana as harm reduction, providing new tax revenues, promoting health-centered drug policies, and empowering youth, parents, and educators with fact-based drug education over fear-based messaging. Visionaries such as investor-philanthropist George Soros, Brown University’s alcohol and addiction specialist Dr. David Lewis, former attorney-general Nicholas Katzenbach, former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker, former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, Richard Branson, Vaclav Havel, Sting and numerous others promote equity and safety through DPA efforts. For additional information, please visit


Sierra Club

The Sierra Club was founded in 1892 by the renowned conservationist John Muir who felt it was essential to preserve and protect the environment not just for the “current” generation but for generations that follow. The Club’s goal is to “practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources.” An integral element to carry on this overarching mission includes educating and enlisting humanity for the lawful protection and restoration of the natural, as well as human environment. Muir felt all men and women can become vanguards of this effort by exposure to the earth’s beauty through exploring, enjoying and protecting wild places.

The largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, three million members and supporters strong, Sierra Club has helped protect millions of wilderness acres through the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and others. The Club has also been proactive in advocating moving away from fossil fuel consumption towards cleaner energy systems. For additional information about Sierra Club, please visit


Doctors Without Borders

“We are doctors without borders...We help people worldwide where the need is greatest, delivering emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care.” So states the mission of men and women, doctors, nurses and other support specialists that can be found in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. They provide essential medical care to keep people alive and/or to perform procedures some people would not otherwise receive.

Individual and group support provides most of the funding for this life-saving organization. In fact, 89 cents of every dollar supports the organization’s programs, an effort that keeps administration and fundraising efforts to a minimum. Operating since the early 1970s, Doctors without Borders has saved thousands of lives, with millions served in countries all over the globe. Learn how you can contribute by visiting their website at