10 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Stuff-Obsessed Grinch This Christmas

If you've ever considered punching someone over a cheap home appliance, you need to read this

Sometime between the moment that the video of that woman pepper-spraying a whole bunch of people at Walmart went viral and the moment that CNN covered an all-out riot over a pile of inexpensive waffle irons, I felt a sort of sea change, didn’t you? When Black Friday suddenly went from semi-ridiculous to outright disgusting? (“Makes me embarrassed to be human,” offered one friend.) The general spirit among everyone I encountered seemed to go from a befuddled amusement and light disgust to a full-fledged state of shock how having stuff, getting stuff, buying stuff has turned us into a real-life, limb-tearing, eyeball-glazing, blood-hungry live version of The Walking Dead.

Anyway, as a potential antidote to the spiral of selfishness and materialism that plagued our season of thanksgiving, I started asking pals their favorite local causes and charities: Trite as this may sound, I’m all for anything that will keep my upcoming holiday season from devolving into a celebration of consumerism, that will keep my Christmas good and real and non-riotous—no matter what happens at the Walmart.

So here, 10 causes that might counterbalance the waffle-iron effect. It’s just a small (but cool) range of do-gooding opportunities to consider, if you—like I—think that maybe such outlets could be the first small step in saving us from ourselves.

Project H.O.M.E.: The website for this lauded local nonprofit lists holiday and year-round wish lists of the items you can provide for people who need basic things like sheets, and soap, and razors. This year also marks the debut of the H.O.M.E. Shop, where you can buy holiday cards, ornaments, hoodies (“none of us are home until all of us are home”), and the like, proceeds benefiting those without homes.

Arch Street Christmas Breakfast: A lot of churches do angel trees and soup kitchens, but one of the most popular programs in Center City is the Arch Street Methodist Men’s Christmas Breakfast, where you can give your morning to feed the needy a holiday feast. Call 215-568-6250.

Play On, Philly!: I first heard about and saw Stanford Thompson’s youth orchestra at TedX in 2010; to this day I tear up when I think about it. The music program takes kids from “challenging social and economic conditions” at St Francis de Sales School and trains them to play classical music in an everyday (and all-summer-long) extracurricular program. It’s modeled on Venezuela’s brilliant and successful El Sistema, and teaches kids the benefits of goals, ambition, discipline, and hard work, and in doing so, improves their (and our) future. Visit Play On, Philly to get involved.

The Food Trust: This nonprofit’s mission to ensure that everyone has access to affordable and nutritious food has already made huge strides in this city—they’re in the schools, in the farmers’ markets, in the neighborhoods that never had a place for fresh veggies. It’s food-centered humanitarianism.

Philabundance: According to a Gallup Poll, something like 20 percent of Americans have not been able to consistently afford groceries this year. Philabundance gets food to roughly 65,000 people a week. They’ll happily take money or food or your time … whatever you got.

The Ronald McDonald House: It started here in Philly, you know. Go ahead and visit the website, and then try not to donate. I dare you. (One cool part is that just $105 keeps one family of one sick kid in the house, free of charge, for a whole week.)

Moringa Community: This small little Schwenksville nonprofit helps the people of Ghana, West Africa, by introducing them to “locally appropriate technologies” and training courses in everything from food preservation to weaving to machine-based woodworking. They call themselves a “leg-up, not a hand-out, organization”—global humanitarians in our backyard. You can give here.

Help Us Adopt: Becky Fawcett, native Philadelphian, founded this financial assistance nonprofit to help hopeful adoptive parents get money (via $15,000 grants) to go toward the staggering costs associated with getting children who need loving homes to the people eager to provide them. You can help via donations or by buying (remarkably cute!) stuff on the website.

Books Through Bars: You don’t need money, just books. (Well, okay, they’ll take money, too.) This nonprofit helps get education and reading materials to people in prison, so that our prisoners might find hope, education and eventually successful re-integration. (Email before you send to make sure they can use your books.) Tellingly, many book requests coming from prisoners have included dictionaries and GED prep materials.

Manna: This group prepares and delivers food for people and families living with life-altering, life-threatening illness (I.e. AIDS/HIV, cancer.) Three meals a day, 7 days a week. You can give your time or your money.