Science shows that helping others helps us. Whether it’s donating services or goods or giving of your time or dollars, the very act jump-starts the release of dopamine and other feel-good chemicals in the brain, like when we eat a delicious meal or have great sex. Just volunteering a few hours every week or reaching into your pocket now and then can improve your mood as well as your community. So what’s stopping you? Here, we give you 82 ways to be a better Westchester resident and an even happier human being.
Help The Poor
In 1990, Westchester had the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country, with a peak of 4,500 people in shelters. Many could have avoided eviction if they had had access to a small temporary loan to help them through a rough patch. Enter The Bridge Fund of Westchester (171 E Post Rd, White Plains, 914-949-8146), whose mission is to prevent evictions with short-term loans. Since 1990, the number of homeless in the county’s shelter system has plummeted 70 percent, with The Bridge Fund of Westchester receiving considerable credit for that drop. (Indeed, it was so successful that it was the model that led to the creation of The Bridge Fund of New York City.) The average loan is just $910 per household. Small loans; huge paybacks. So write a check on their behalf.
Build a Home
If you can wield a hammer, push a broom, or pour a cup of coffee, you can help fix some deserving soul’s rundown home or build a new one from scratch. Through volunteer labor and tax-deductible donations of money and materials, Habitat for Humanity builds and rehabilitates houses with the help of homeowners. This isn’t a give-away program. In addition to coming up with a down payment and making monthly mortgage payments, each homeowner family invests hundreds of hours building their house or helping others build theirs. And those mortgage payments? They go right back into a revolving fund that is used to build more houses, coming full circle. Volunteer orientation is on Monday nights from 6 to 8 pm at 527 Main St, New Rochelle, (888) 9-HABITAT.
Calories don’t count when you’re consuming them for a good cause. Both the Greyston Bakery in Yonkers (104 Alexander St, 914-375-1510) and Connie’s Bakery in Mount Kisco (41 S Moger Ave, 866-926-6643) train the formerly unemployed to be expert pastry chefs. Greyston’s brownies are so yummy that Ben & Jerry’s selected them for the company’s bestselling Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream, as well as Dave Matthews Band Magic Brownies, Half Baked, and Neapolitan Dynamite. Connie’s donates profits to local organizations. And when you buy gift items in the shop, a portion of those profits also go to charities.
SHOP FOR GROCERIES
The Food Bank for Westchester supports approximately 200 hunger-relief centers throughout Westchester, distributing more than five million pounds of food annually including almost a million pounds of fresh local produce and eggs. In addition, the Food Bank rescues prepared and perishable foods from local restaurants, institutional cafeterias, and supermarkets that would otherwise be tossed away. Items especially in-demand are high-protein foods such as tuna, canned chicken, canned salmon, beans, and peanut butter. Next time you shop for groceries, pack a bag for your neighbors, too (358 Saw Mill River Rd, Millwood, 914-923-1100).
HELP THE LESS FORTUNATE
Family Services of Westchester offers 50 programs—the best known of which are the local chapters of Big Brothers-Big Sisters, AmeriCorps, and Head Start—that benefit 30,000 people in the county. FSA also has an intergenerational adult day program in Mount Kisco (My Second Home won a national award for its approach of serving seniors in conjunction with the Mount Kisco Day Care Center), mental health clinics, youth leadership programs, services for families affected by HIV/AIDS, and many other programs for seniors, children, families, and teens. Visit fsw.org or call (914) 937-2320.
ADOPT A FAMILY
Seven years ago, Hastings-on-Hudson resident Pam Koner saw a disturbing photo on the front page of the New York Times of an impoverished young girl in Pembroke, Illinois, sitting on a bare mattress, eating a watery soup. “As a mom, I was deeply moved,” she says. “I got up from my chair on my deck in lovely Westchester County and said to my own healthy, well-fed daughters: ‘I have to do something.’” That “something” is Family-to-Family, a national, grassroots hunger-relief organization that matches donor families to families in need. In the six years since its founding, more than 100 families in Hastings and Dobbs Ferry alone have signed up to help families both in Westchester and beyond on a monthly basis. Koner’s concept has spread across the country and there are now 40-plus chapters of donor communities that sponsor 17 communities in need. Donor families shop for and pack a box of food once a month for “their” family; Fed Ex ships the monthly boxes for free. Other families may opt to sign up online on the website to “cyber sponsor” a family, donating funds to purchase groceries along with a monthly care package of a children’s book, a non-food basic necessity (e.g., soap, shampoo, toothbrushes), and gently used clothing or blankets. What’s cool is that donors and recipients exchange letters, so the help feels very personal—and fulfilling. Visit family-to-family.org.
SHOP FOR A GOOD CAUSE
Make your purchases through GoodSearch.com or the online shopping mall GoodShop.com (which includes retailers such as Target, Apple, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble) and support your favorite charities without it costing you a cent! The prices are the same as going to the retailer directly, but by going through GoodShop, up to 37 percent of the purchase price is donated the user’s favorite cause. Local charities affiliated with this program include the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the March of Dimes, Morry’s Camp, Bet Am Shalom Synagogue, the Mount Kisco Elementary School Association, and the Pet Adoption League of Westchester County.
LEAVE FOOD WITH REALTORS
Food to Give was started last summer by local author Jill Brooke and enlists county realtors to collect food left behind in empty rental and sale properties, which is then donated to the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester. When going on vacation, homeowners also can drop off perishables with realtors, so they don’t go to waste. (To donate, contact Jill Brooke at email@example.com or the Boys & Girls Club at 914-666-8069.)
DELIVER SOUP AND SOAP
Hillside Food Outreach drops off food to more than 1,600 Westchester residents in need each month. Hillside also delivers diapers as well as personal-hygiene items. These non-food items are included because, if there isn’t money to buy food, most likely there isn’t money to buy shampoo. Volunteers deliver groceries to needy clients in teams of two; volunteer teams usually are given five to eight families to visit each month. Another way to help is by organizing a food drive or donating food and personal-hygiene items. This organization also has a monthly youth night, at which kids can get involved by helping pack food for delivery (914-747-0095).
Save the Earth
PICK UP LITTER
Bring a trash bag along on your walks; you never know what you will find. On a recent clean-up day in my community, a neighbor garnered a chandelier and a black lace Victoria’s Secret bra (along with a rusted washing machine, a number of tires, and an old outboard motor).
The county sponsors special recycling days for household waste that can’t be set out for curbside collection: e-waste, pesticides, appliances, etc. Visit westchestergov.com for drop-off days in the spring and fall. Added bonus: the Shred Mobile is available during these days to destroy personal documents while you watch (the result is recyclable, too!).
Continue reading for more ways to become a better Westchesterite…
Help a Child
SEND A GIRL TO THE PROM
Do you have two (or 10) prom dresses and bridesmaids’ gowns cluttering up your closets? Let another girl feel like Cinderella for a night and donate dresses, shoes, handbags, and accessories to Operation Fairy Dust (operationfairydust.org). South Salem resident Jerry Pozniak heads up the effort in Westchester; his wife, Lisa Miller, will accept the gowns at her Cottage Antiques Shop located at Gossett Brothers Nursery (1202 Rte 35, South Salem, 914-763-3001) from January through March. Pozniak’s Cameo Cleaners (cameocleaners.com), located in New York City, will clean and press the gowns. Operation PROM, a non-profit founded by former Yonkers student Noel D’Allacco five years ago, also helps hundreds of local teens living in shelters, group homes, or low-income households attend their prom at little or no cost. To reach even more teens, Operation PROM has joined forces with the Westchester County Department of Social Services. For information on how to donate a prom dress or to make a charitable contribution, visit helpprom.org or call Trish Quattrocchi at DSS at (914) 995-9306.
GIVE A KID A TOY
For the past 18 years, the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program has been responsible for making the holidays brighter for abused, underprivileged, and institutionalized children up to age 18 in Westchester County. Drop off new, unwrapped toys and books (visit
mclwestchester.org/Programs/ToysForTots.aspx for locations around the county) by December 18 (although, don’t fret if you miss the deadline; the need is year-round and you can arrange for a convenient pickup time). The group is most in need of gifts for teenage girls. Can’t figure out what to give? Checks are always welcome; send to Toys for Tots, Marine Corps League, PO Box 505, White Plains, NY 10602-0505.
TEACH A CHILD TO RIDE
Horses don’t judge, as the young participants in the Pegasus Therapeutic Riding program have learned. The participants are kids suffering from autism, ADD and ADHD, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Down Syndrome, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment. Therapeutic riding exercises both “mind and muscle,” improving mobility, balance, posture, coordination, language development, behavior control, and concentration. For someone who cannot walk, see, communicate, or accomplish basic tasks without difficulty, therapeutic riding can be a liberating experience. More than 200 students participate in programs at seven locations throughout Fairfield, Westchester, and Putnam counties (visit chraveler.net/ptr for details). Volunteers with no riding experience can help in the office or by walking beside horses during classes; experience is needed to help with groom and tack, feeding, and care.
THROW A “PAJAMA PARTY”
Cozy jammies and a story at bedtime should be every child’s birthright (and bedtime ritual). The Pajama Program delivers new, warm pajamas and books to children in shelters, group homes, orphanages, and other facilities around the county. You can help by donating new pjs and books, organizing a pajama drive, hosting a fundraiser or event, or you can volunteer to work directly with the program. Children who wish to volunteer with their families should be 10 or older. Visit pajamaprogram.org for details.
DONATE SWING SETS
Both WestHELP Greenburgh and WestHELP Mount Vernon are operated by HELP USA, an organization that provides homes, jobs, and services to homeless families with young children. You can help them in their mission by donating playground equipment, clothes, toys, food baskets, dry goods; organizing a drive (new clothing, books, games, gifts); plan/host a dinner for residents on-site; teach or develop adult or children’s workshops in your area of expertise, or just read to or do arts-and-crafts projects with the children. Contact WestHELP Greenburgh (1 WestHELP Dr, White Plains, 914-683-2559) or WestHELP Mount Vernon (240 Franklin Ave, Mount Vernon, 914-665-3626) or visit helpusa.org.
Continue reading for more ways to become a better Westchesterite…
Save a Life
It doesn’t cost you a cent, takes about an hour, hurts only for a second or two, and is just plain good karma. Everyone has blood to spare, yet there’s not enough to go around, and there is no substitute for the real thing. Knowing you can save a life (sometimes up to three lives with just one donation) brings about a noble afterglow (that’s dopamine at work). You can donate whole blood every 56 days and platelets every three days. And did you know that the one pint they take equals one pound? So you leave feeling righteous—and thinner (unless you overdo it with the free Lorna Doones and Oreos offered while you recover—but that is totally up to you). Call (800) 933-2566 to donate.
DONATE AN ORGAN
It costs nothing to turn over your driver’s license and sign the donor agreement on the back. If, God forbid, you or a loved one dies unexpectedly, the organs can save a number of lives. Call the New York Organ Donor Network (646) 291-4444 or visit
donatelifeny.com. Of course, you don’t need to do something as drastic as dying to make a difference. There are currently nearly 105,000 people on the national waiting list for a kidney, and healthy folks really only need one. After searching for (and finding) a kidney for their father, three sisters from Pleasantville launched a non-profit organization to help others with their search. The Flood Sisters Kidney Foundation of America provides matching services all across the country; the group is already responsible for two transplants. Visit floodsisters.org for details.
GET MOVING! RUN (WALK, BIKE, SHOOT HOOPS) FOR THE CURE
Even if those big-ticket gala dinner dances are out of your range, you can support all the major charities just by getting out and moving. Here are some worth supporting:
Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk
American Cancer Society Relay for Life
Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation Guts & Glory Walk
Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital Walk and Fun Day
MHA (Mental Health Assocation) on the Move
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Bear Mountain Walk for MS
Tappan Zee Bridge Ride for MS
Pediatric Cancer Foundation Annual Bikeathon
Miles of Hope Hoops for Hope Women’s Basketball Tournament
United Way 5-K Health Walk
Support Connection Support-a-Walk
Walk to Cure Diabetes
Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Light the Night Walk
Sound Shore Stride & Health Walk
Make-A-Wish Foundation 2.5-mile Walk For Wishes
Junior Achievement Bowl for Kids
Burke Rehabilitation Wheelchair Games
SHELTER ABUSED WOMEN
Organizations like My Sisters’ Place (914-683-1333, mysistersplaceny.org) and Hope’s Door (formerly known as the Northern Westchester Shelter, 914-747-0828, northernwestchestersheter.org) provide a safe haven (and a variety of other services) for victims of domestic violence. Ways to help? Plan and implement fundraising events; provide childcare at the shelter (help kids with homework, take them on outings); assist with community outreach and awareness; perform administrative duties (data entry, mailings, filing, answering phones); participate in Adopt-a-Family (donate specific items to a particular needy family); or offer a service in your field of expertise. In addition to volunteers, the organizations can use furniture, toiletries, and clothing for women and children.
Continue reading for more ways to become a better Westchesterite…
Rescue an Animal
ADOPT A DOG OR CAT
Okay, so maybe you can’t save the world. But how about saving just one furry
inhabitant? Adopt a dog or cat already living (on borrowed time) at one of our area shelters. If you have your heart set on a certain purebred, check with breed-specific rescue groups (sadly, there is a never-ending supply even of purebreds needing homes). Simply type the breed of choice plus the word “rescue” into your search engine, then narrow down by region. Expect to be thoroughly, um, vetted, before being approved and be prepared to travel some distance to meet your match.
Shelters that take in abandoned animals and have on-site kennel facilities:
Elmsford Animal Shelter, Elmsford
New Rochelle Humane Society, New Rochelle
Pet Adoption League, Yonkers
(affiliated with the Mount Vernon Animal Shelter)
SPCA OF WESTCHESTER, Briarcliff Manor
Westchester Shore Humane Society Harrison
Yonkers Animal Shelter, Yonkers
FOSTER A PET
C an’t commit to a full-time pet? Maybe fostering is right for you: take an animal into your home while it waits for adoption. Or donate to animal shelters (not just money, but old towels and blankets for bedding), volunteer to walk dogs, cuddle kitties, help in the office, or clean cages. Shelters also will gratefully accept pet supplies, including litter, dry and wet food, treats, grooming brushes and shampoos, leashes and collars, toys, and bowls. Cleaning supplies like mops, bleach, sponges, and paper towels also are appreciated.
Organizations that take in abandoned animals and house them in foster homes:
Forgotten Felines, Valhalla
Sandies Angels, White Plains
Rabbit Rescue and Rehabilitation, Bronxville
Pet Rescue, Larchmont
Just Strays, Yonkers
Tiny Treasures Rescue, Yonkers
Cat Assistance Inc, Ardsley
NURTURE A FUTURE GUIDING EYE DOG
Experienced dog owners can give puppies a leg up on the road to becoming a Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog and get a puppy fix in the bargain. Not all dogs born at the breeding center make the grade, but sometimes all that is needed is a little extra TLC. The purpose of the puppy socialization program is to help dogs develop the confidence to become full-fledged Guiding Eyes companions. Your mission is to take in two or more pups at a time for four or five days at a stretch and simply play with them, love them, keep them clean. Guiding Eyes provides everything else: training, a travel crate, playpen, food, bowls, leashes, and, most important, a number to call for any questions that come up. I asked a veteran volunteer if anyone ever got so attached to one of the pups that they refused to give it back. “That,” she informed me with a smile, “is what we call a puppy raiser.” Call (845) 878-3330 or visit guiding-eyes.org for details.
PAWS FOR A CAUSE
Extremely well-mannered pets might be candidates for therapy training, allowing them to accompany their humans into nursing homes, hospitals, and other institutions, delivering their own unique form of happiness. The Port Chester Obedience Training Club (220 Ferris Ave, White Plains, 914-422-DOGS) can test your pet and certify that it meets the requirements. Share the joy.
FIND YOUR MATCH
Want to help but not sure where to start? For the past 60 years, the Volunteer Center has matched thousands of volunteers to nonprofits who could use your help. Visit volunteer-center.org or contact Shannon Cobb at (914) 227-9313.
Don’t Throw It Out!
When cleaning out closets, attics, and basements, consider a charitable donation as an alternative to the town dump. One option is to list what you’d like to get rid of—everything from appliances to furniture—at westchestergov.com/treasures; recipients are responsible for its pickup. In addition to local churches and library fairs, here are a few other places that might be a good match for your attic treasures and hand-me-downs:
Clothing and Furniture
Acceptances vary from center to center, but the Salvation Army will accept almost all of your gently used clothing and furniture so long as it’s in salable condition. Bonus: If you have bulky furniture items or the equivalent of five to 10 garbage bags full of clothes, the Salvation Army will come to your house to pick them up. But no appliances, bathroom fixtures, waterbeds, broken furniture, tires, heaters, or doors.
380 Saw Mill River Rd, Elmsford
(914) 347-4376; 440 S Riverside Ave, Croton-on-Hudson (914) 827-9311
Goodwill accepts your new or gently used items—clothing, appliances, and furniture—and sells them in their retail stores.
1 West Ave, Larchmont
Furniture Sharehouse will pick your stuff up, give you a donation receipt for tax purposes, and then redistribute the furnishings to clients referred by area social-service organizations. There is a two-piece furniture minimum as well as a $20 minimum donation at time of pickup to offset the cost of trucking services.
Kitchen Cabinets and Countertops
19 Willard Rd, Norwalk, CT
From fixtures to furniture, cabinetry to countertops, Green Demolitions accepts donations from those looking to renovate or demolish their homes. They even pick up most donations, eliminating hefty disposal costs. Even better, proceeds from sales of your cast-offs go to Recovery Unlimited, which supports All Addicts Anonymous, a 12-step program for addicts of everything from alcohol to food.
It’s illegal to toss old phones in the trash, so bring yours to a Verizon Wireless HopeLine drop box, where its memory will be wiped out and it’ll go to help a victim of domestic violence. Or just send your phone back to Verizon and they will process and reprogram it, so it can be used again. AT&T has collection boxes at each of its stores; phones go to service personnel or charitable organizations. Government offices also accept cellphones at Rye City Hall, 1051 Boston Post Rd, Rye (914) 967-5400; Greenburgh Town Hall, 177 Hillside Ave, White Plains (914) 993-1576; North Salem Library, 276 Titicus Rd, North Salem, (914) 669-5161; Peekskill City Hall, 840 Main St, Peekskill (914) 737-3400. For other locations, visit westchestergov.com/cellphone or call (914) 813-5441.
Put your old prescription glasses to good use: donate yours to the Give the Gift of Sight foundation. Drop boxes can be found at LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical, BJ’s Optical, and Sunglass Hut stores. The nonprofit donates used eyeware to the underprivileged. Call (888) 935-4589 or visit givethegiftofsight.org for more information.
(Almost) Everything Else
American Cancer Society Discovery Shop
400 King St, Chappaqua
This upscale resale shop is staffed solely by volunteers; proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society. The ACS accepts just about everything, including clothing (gently used are okay), furniture, bric-a-brac, china, crystal, artwork, lamps, and brand-new toys.
149 Larchmont Ave, Larchmont
The Junior League of Westchester on the Sound takes artwork, bedding, bric-a-brac, china, crystal, glassware, kitchen items, working appliances, clothing furniture, housewares, toys, small furniture pieces, decorative items, accessories, and bedding—so long as they are clean, in current fashion, and in good condition. No records, space heaters, vaporizers, computers older than three years, bathing suits, socks, underwear, and books (other than children’s and current bestsellers).
New Rochelle Humane Society Thrift Shop
313 North Ave, New Rochelle
This consignment shop accepts gently used goods from nearly every category: clothes, jewelry, DVDs, electronics, furniture, etc. You can clean out your closet here, too; bring some of your own items to donate next time you stop by to go shopping for a good cause.
Make Someone’s Day
Simple everyday things that anyone can do:
â– Bake an extra batch of cookies or muffins and deliver them to your local fire or police department.
â– Thank a veteran for his or her service to our country.
â– Visit a nursing home or hospital and cheer up a lonely patient.
â– If you see a parking meter about to expire, put some change in. Who knows—next time someone may do the same for you.
â– Smile—just the act will make you feel better (those feel good brain chemicals at work again!) and can be contagious—in a good way.
Environmental Groups That Can Use Your Help
Bronx River Parkway Reservation Conservancy preserves the park-like ambience and recreation activities along the BRP (914-779-7744).
Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition is a group of organizations devoted to protecting and improving the waters in our region (914-234-6470).
Federated Conservationists of Westchester County is a coalition of local environmental groups and individuals working to protect Westchester’s natural resources (914-422-4053).
Friends of Westchester County Parks supports the enhancement of Westchester’s parks (914-864-7032).
Hudson River Audubon Society of Westchester advocates for birds and other wildlife and their environment (914-237-9331).
WESPAC Foundation advocates socially responsible production practices and supports alternative energy and waste-stream reduction (914-449-6514).
Westchester Land Trust is the umbrella organization devoted to preserving open space and educating the public on land-use preservation issues (914-241-6346).
Westchester Trails Association promotes outdoor recreation, maintains and creates trails, and preserves public forest and recreation lands (914-843-4784).
Have more ideas on how to be a better Westchester citizen? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustrations by Brandon Reese