Whether the cause closest to your heart involves animals, health, or the environment, there are countless charities working to make the world a better place.
Of the many nonprofits whose missions are consistent with vegetarian values, this year we'd like to draw your attention to five inspiring organizations that are working to promote animal welfare, reduce malnutrition, green America's cities, preserve endangered terrain, and eco-educate our children.
Even if money is tight, you can still help. Donate time, write letters, and spread the word. The times are receptive to a new brand of activism that melds consciousness-raising with active participation. Hoe an inner-city garden, foster an abandoned dog or cat, find out what's for lunch at your child's school, or write to your elected officials about an issue that's important to you. The following worthy charities—and many others like them —rely on your help to make a tangible difference in the lives of others.
Best Friends Animal Society
Harriet Carpenter and her husband, Clay, wanted to nurture their tween daughter Courtlyn's budding interest in animals, so when they saw the sign for Best Friends Animal Sanctuary en route to their annual autumn vacation in Utah's canyon country, they pulled off the highway.
It was love at first sight. After a tour, the family immediately began planning to return as volunteers the following year. While a vacation to an animal shelter may not seem like an A-list destination, this is no ordinary place.
Best Friends, the nation's largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals, is not far from Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Lake Powell, and the Grand Canyon. This proximity allows visitors to combine more conventional vacations with walking dogs, brushing horses, or anything else they dream up. Volunteer duties can be as relaxed or intense as you want them to be. "The staff members are wonderful about working with how comfortable you are doing certain jobs with the animals," says Harriet. Guests may stay in town or in one of the cottages, cabins, or RV hookups on Best Friends' grounds. The Carpenters highly recommend the on-site cafeteria for a veg lunch.
Where: Kanab, Utah.
What: Caring for animals and educating people about animal welfare.
How many: 2,000 animals (many with special needs) live on 3,700 acres, and the society receives about 27,500 visitors and 4,500 volunteers each year.
Cool fact: Best Friends has a sleepover program that allows visitors to take a dog or a pot-bellied pig back to their room for the night.
What your gift will buy:
$1 Buys one of many healthful treats for the society's birds or pigs.
$25 Spays or neuters one new arrival to Best Friends.
$65 Purchases special equipment needed to feed and care for orphaned animals.
$110 Procures a bottle of Rimadyl, an arthritis medication for geriatric dogs.
5001 Angel Canyon Rd.
Kanab, UT 84741 435-644-2001
Doctors Without Borders
Each year, the people of Maradi, Niger, experience a hunger gap—this year's crop has yet to be harvested, but last year's stores have been depleted. Food is difficult to come by, and families often eat just once each day.This rationing is particularly hard on children aged six months to 2 years. "Whereas adults are able to stave off a difficult period of food insecurity, children in that age group are the most vulnerable," explains Kevin Phelan, deputy U.S. manager for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières's (MSF) Access to Essential Medicines campaign.
Once a young child becomes severely malnourished, restoring health is a major undertaking. It requires the child and a caregiver—usually the mother—to stay at a therapeutic feeding center for four or five weeks, leaving other children behind. When famine struck Angola in 2002, 10,000 children were treated in this way, Phelan recounts.
Three years later, when Maradi experienced a particularly serious hunger gap, MSF tried a new strategy. They fed a staggering 60,000 children with Plumpy'nut, a peanut-based therapeutic food requiring no refrigeration or water. The sweet, nutrient-rich paste, which happens to be vegetarian, treats severe malnutrition in four to six weeks, without a hospital stay. In 2007, MSF distributed Plumpy'nut to close to 150,000 children worldwide.
Where: Niger, Darfur and South Sudan, Burkina Faso, and other poor regions worldwide.
What: Ready-to-use therapeutic food that provides more than 40 nutrients and promotes rapid weight gain.
How many: 150,000 children in 2007.
Cool fact: Plumpy'nut's peanut buttery consistency was inspired by one of the developers watching his kids eat Nutella from the jar.
What your gift will buy:
$1 Buys a one-day supply of Plumpy'nut.
$35 Purchases cooking supplies and utensils for a family of five.
$90 Treats one severely malnourished child.
$200 Purchases a month's supply of Plumpy'nut for five children.
333 Seventh Ave., Second Floor
New York, NY 10001 212-679-6800
Two generations ago, Detroit was one of America's great cities. It was the epicenter of the world's auto industry and home of the Motown sound. Since the 1967 riots, the Motor City faltered and hasn't recovered. Even today, urban lots and burned-out buildings from the riots sit empty. Taja Sevelle, a recording artist who got her start with Prince, was in Detroit and noticed the blight—and the empty lots. "There was so much unused land," she says. "The more I learned about the hunger rate in the city, the more I thought, ‘Why not plant food on the land?'" So Sevelle got permission, and in 2005 planted three gardens and gave away one ton of food. In three years, Sevelle's idea has grown to about 170 gardens in 15 U.S. cities and four countries, including New York, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Jamaica, and Haiti. In places where land isn't readily available, Urban Farming has installed 30- x 6-foot "edible walls," including two on transitional housing facilities on skid row in downtown Los Angeles.
Volunteers come from every walk of life, including Girl Scouts, senior citizens, families, and employees of local businesses. Distribution is simple: people visit the garden and pick what they need, with the remainder going to food banks. "The community gardens are borderless," Sevelle says.
Where: The U.S., Canada, England, Jamaica, and Haiti.
What: Planting gardens in unused urban spaces.
How many: About 170 urban gardens.
Cool fact:Urban Farming's gardens are fenceless and open to all.
What your gift will buy:
$70 Buys seven flats of vegetable seedlings.
$149 Purchases 15 shovels.
$249 Acquires three rain barrels and 10 flats of seedlings.
$500 Procures 60 yards of compost.
19785 W. 12 Mile Rd., #537
Southfield, MI 48076 877-679-8300
In 1988, ethnobotanist Paul Cox, PhD, was in Falealupo, Samoa, working with native healers to identify natural compounds that might have medicinal value. While Cox was there, the Samoan government issued an ultimatum: either the villagers build a better school or the government would pull the school's teachers from the village, leaving no way to educate the community's children.
Having no money to fund construction, the town's elders prepared to sell logging rights to the local rain forest, a ready source of cash but an environmental tragedy. Cox heard of the village's predicament and issued his own solution: he would raise the money needed for the school in exchange for a covenant protecting the 30,000-acre rain forest. And thus, Seacology was born.
Where: The world's 100,000-plus islands.
What: Preserving island cultures and natural resources while providing essential services and infrastructure.
How many: Seacology's efforts have saved nearly
165,000 acres of terrestrial habitat; protected 1.8 million acres of coral reef; built 76 infrastructure projects, including schools, community centers, and water delivery systems; and provided 26 scholarship programs, vital medical services and supplies, and other crucial support for island communities.
Sobering fact: Over the past 400 years, most plant and animal extinctions have occurred on islands.
What your gift will buy:
$100 Preserves 9 acres of forest.
$200 Saves 282 acres of coral reef.
$500 Funds 3 percent of building
costs for an island school.
1623 Solano Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94707 510-559-3505
Center of Ecoliteracy
There's a movement afoot to bring a new kind of literacy to schools in the United States and around the world. "Eco-literacy is understanding the way nature sustains life," says Lisa Bennett of the Berkeley, Calif.–based Center for Ecoliteracy. The center's mission is to help integrate environmental awareness into the educational experience, from lesson plans and activities to school gardens and cafeteria fare. CEL recently helped a small school in California implement "a whole-school curriculum review and development of new eco-literacy goals in every grade and every subject, even art and math" Bennett says. In 2008, CEL hosted five staffers from the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the United States. At a seminar called Rethinking Food, Health, and the Environment, the cross-discipline team met some 60 peers from Boulder, Colo.; Austin, Tex.; Phoenix; Seattle; and Oakland, Calif.
"I think what we took away as a group was that this is not as far-fetched as people once thought," says LAUSD Deputy Director of Food Services David Binkle. LAUSD has already begun making changes, from using more local, organic produce, to ensuring that there is a veg menu option each day.
Where: CEL attracts participants
from around the world, including the United States, Europe, Africa, India, and Australia.
What: Giving schools the training and materials needed to teach students about nature and sustainability.
How many: More than 300 educators have attended seminars.
Cool fact: CEL uses grants and donations to provide free seminars for economically disadvantaged schools.
What your gift will buy:
$50 Buys three teachers cutting-edge texts on integrating eco-literacy in the classroom.
$100 Sends one public school teacher to a CEL seminar
$250 Sends a team of educators, administrators, and parents to a CEL seminar.
2528 San Pablo Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94702 510-845-4595