As if we care 

Like You Care

Cynical or not, you can help local charities

And lo, unto them a cynic was born.

In the spirit of the Worshipful Season, I offer a confession: Something about the charitable outpouring in December always sounds alarms in a dark and musty neighborhood of my soul. But the more socially presentable, fun-at-parties segment of my personality realizes that the megaton of charity that hits this time of year unleashes beneficent ripples throughout the rest of the year.

With that in mind, the Independent annually offers a few hints for readers looking for good works and worthy causes this time of year. If you, like me, are prone to Scroogey thoughts, allow us to urge you to tranquilize your Inner Curmudgeon for just a few weeks. The important thing is to seize the momentum of the season before it slips away.

What follows is hardly a representative sample of the great organizations and causes in need of your time, muscle and money this month and all through the year, but these few ideas will perhaps help you begin.

The Boys and Girls Club

The Boys and Girls Club of Missoula plans to help kids party like it's 1999 during the city-wide celebrations of First Night. The party planned for the new BGC digs at 617 South Higgins will no doubt rock a lot harder than a lot of the alcohol-free events, given that Missoula punk-pop geniuses Oblio Joes are slated to throw down two sets of their trademark elegiac noise.

The folks at Missoula Youth Homes could use your help.

"We could really use some chaperones," says Beth Reece of Boys and Girls Club. "First Night itself provides people to watch the doors and check buttons, but that's it. We could use people to be here, monitoring kids and things like that."

So you can treat yourself to some of the Obes' gorgeous, heart-rending pre-millennial rock and roll and help brighten up life for kids at the same time. Give a call to 542-3116.

The Friends of Ellacuria

Efforts to help the Central American victims of Hurricane Mitch have received a lot of ink locally and nationally. You don't have to mount a medical expedition to the isthmus, though, or organize a multinational benefit soccer tournament. There are avenues available that can funnel money and goods straight from Missoula to Honduras and El Salvador.

The Friends of Ellacuria, an organization promoting sister-city ties between Missoula and Ellacuria, El Salvador, has networked with other groups to provide direct relief to Ellacuria and San Pedro Sula in Honduras. According Melissa Bangs of Friends, working outside the confines of official channels and huge international relief organizations actually benefits the poor people aid is intended for.

"These organizations have been helping people rebuild for years, whether from the wars of the 1980s or simply from chronic poverty," she says. "You're not talking about some international organization that takes a huge chunk for its own bureaucracy, and these groups aren't hooked up with the governments of Honduras or El Salvador. "

Cash donations, which are wired directly to Central America, can be dropped off either at It's Spanish Time, the language and cultural center Bangs runs at 415 North Higgins #102 or at the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center at 519 South Higgins. Donations of blankets, clothing or non-perishable goods can be dropped of at Heilig-Meyers furniture, 1001 South 3rd West.


"Currently we've got 15 or 16 people in the shelter, and half of those are kids," says Mel Gilles of the YWCA's shelter for victims of domestic violence. "At Christmas time, I think it's especially important to pay attention to developing a sense of community for these women and kids, a sense that they're cared for and needed."

To that end, Gilles says the YWCA is on the lookout for donated Christmas gifts suitable for adolescents and women. Younger kids, she says, pose less of a problem, though presents for little ones are welcome as well. She suggests sneakers and clothes for adolescents; for women, she says, absolutely anything would help.

Cash, too, assists the mission of the YWCA, one of the few places women can turn to for structured help in combating the cycles of domination, control and violence that mark abusive relationships.

For those more inclined to give of their time, the Y will begin training for new volunteers at the end of February. They're looking for about 50 people; call 543-6691.

Missoula Youth Homes

Kids find their way into the care of Missoula Youth Homes for a lot of reasons-some are ordered by the courts, some are fleeing abuse, some have simply lost their way early in life. Likewise, they have a wide variety of needs.

"Most of our kids arrive on our doorstep with very little," says Barbara Cowan, the community relations director of MYH. "They need to be outdoors going to school, and we do stress keeping them active by being outside as much as possible. We need any kind of cold weather gear people can provide."

The material needs of the kids in MYH attention homes are one thing, the spiritual and intellectual needs quite another. In the latter area, Cowan says, the ways to help are really limited only by the imagination of those who'd like to.

Cowan ticks off a long list of the things kids like to do-horseback riding, skiing, art, sports, music. Anything, she says, to brighten and enrich lives sometimes filled with torment.

"If they want to get specific with a donation, we're always willing to do that," Cowan says. "We've got one person right now giving $50 a month to keep a kid on a swimming team. If someone wanted to hire an art teacher to come into one of our houses once a month, something like that, that would be ideal." Call 721-2704.

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