The Giving Season

More nonprofit organizations

2. Save the Children

savethechildren.org
Nevaeh, age 4, had her right leg surgically removed due to a birth disorder. But her prosthetic leg doesn't stop her from pretending to be a princess or a teacher, says her mom, Candace Sanders, of Union, South Carolina. And Sanders, a single mom of three kids, encourages Nevaeh's imagination. "I use play to teach my children shapes, numbers, and the alphabet," she says. "That's how they learn best."

Sanders learned about the importance of play through an early-education program from Save the Children (STC), the iconic nonprofit that has been working to help poor children in the United States since the Great Depression, when it launched a hot-lunch program for hungry schoolchildren in Kentucky. "The community saw an immediate rise in attendance and academic achievement," says Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of STC. "That became the model for our federal school-lunch program."

Today the global Save the Children movement works to improve children's health, nutrition, and education in 120 countries around the world. Its early-education programs also serve kids living on Native American reservations, in California farming communities, Appalachia, and the rural South. "We work to help a community better serve its own children and lift itself up over time," says Miles. "Our philosophy: To have the greatest impact, we cannot do it alone."

How You Can Help
For less than $1 per day, sponsor an American child, corresponding via regular updates while providing early-education opportunities, nutrition, and school health.

3. Share Our Strength

nokidhungry.org
"In the U.S., you can't always tell someone is hungry just by looking at them," says Debbie Shore, cofounder of Share Our Strength, which she and her brother, Bill, started in response to the Ethiopian famine crisis of 1984. They expanded their efforts to reach families here at home. "Hungry kids suffer a lifetime of cognitive and physical development challenges."

At Share Our Strength, the focus is on access. "We have the food supply in this country," Shore notes. "We also have government programs and services. But of the 21 million kids getting free or reduced-price lunch, only half are also getting free or reduced-price breakfast and only 3 million of them participate in summer feeding programs." So the No Kid Hungry campaign helps schools make sure that more children take advantage of the school's breakfast program. In one model, teachers can provide grab-and-go options in the classroom. It's working: Kids who participate in school breakfast score an average of 17.5 percent higher on math tests and attend class more often.

How You Can Help
December is Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry month. Raise awareness by pledging to end childhood hunger at nokidhungry.org. Then make a donation; even giving $1 will connect a child in need to up to ten meals.

4. Feeding America

feedingamerica.org
Like many of the working poor, Gerald falls into an ever-widening gap: The single dad raising three daughters in Boston earns slightly too much to qualify for SNAP but not enough to cover all of the family's bills. So he relies on the Kids Cafe program for a healthy meal and snacks after school. "They serve good food and the girls enjoy it," he says.

Kids Cafe is just one way that Feeding America distributes nearly 3.4 billion pounds of food to 37 million Americans annually, through food banks and food-assistance agencies. In 2012, it served more than 84 million meals to kids. "This is not simply a moral issue," says Angela De Paul, Feeding America spokesperson. She cites scientific evidence suggesting that food-insecure children are less likely to become productive adults. "The nation's economic growth depends on the well-being of our children--so the existence of child hunger threatens our country's future prosperity."

How You Can Help
Join the annual Give A Meal campaign: A $1 donation provides nine meals. $19 will feed a family for two weeks; $40 for a month; $120 for three months.

5. Playworks

playworks.org
With all of the looming threats in a poor child's life, whether she gets recess might seem like a minor concern. "But for many of these kids, school is the one chance they have to play in a safe environment," says Jill Vialet, founder of Playworks, a nonprofit focused on making recess fun and safe for kids in low-income urban schools. In too many of these settings, playgrounds get overrun with fights--if schools can even provide recess at all. "Instead of going back to class energized, the kids return upset and unable to focus," Vialet explains. "We can change this."

Playworks, offered in more than 380 schools in 23 cities, places a full-time coach to organize games at recess that help kids stay active while learning about teamwork and conflict resolution. The coaches also lead before- or after-school activities and establish events promoting physical activity, inclusion, and other pro-social skills.

Happily, researchers at Stanford University have found that kids at Playworks schools stay more physically active and experience 43 percent less bullying than kids not in the program. "When recess becomes a healthy part of the school day, kids carry that positive feeling with them into their classroom, back to their neighborhood, and out into the world," says Vialet.

How You Can Help
$35 pays for balls and cones for one school. $75 will provide T-shirts for a school's student leaders. $166 pays for one child at a Playworks school for a year.

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