Just four short blocks from my home in Little Italy—and only a stone’s throw from the magazine’s offices in Harbor East—is the Baltimore Rescue Mission, a faith-based homeless shelter in the 100 block of N. Central Avenue. No matter what the season, there’s always a line that forms outside as the down-on-their-luck wait for the doors to open in late afternoon, a hot meal and a safe, dry place to sleep beckoning inside. But magazine staffers who drive by can’t help but notice that, as the air turns chillier, the line gets longer, wrapping around the block onto Baltimore Street, as men of all ages—each with a different story—wait patiently for a brief respite from hunger and cold. Sadly, though, there’s a serious shortage of these beds citywide—there are only about 1,400 beds at Baltimore’s scattered shelters, far fewer than the nearly 3,000 needed when the weather’s really bad.
The sight is a reminder to all of us that while charitable groups depend on the public’s contributions all year long, they particularly need our help when the weather turns cold. And for the 93 percent of us who are employed, there are few good excuses not to lend a hand.
There’s no shortage of worthy nonprofits to support: You can help out the groups that raise money for other groups, like the United Way or The Associated; you can donate to the organizations that assist the working poor and low-income seniors, like the Maryland Food Bank or the Fuel Fund of Maryland; or you can donate to the people who really get their hands dirty providing direct services (like sheltering the homeless). Certainly the biggest group in that latter category is Catholic Charities, which operates Our Daily Bread (267,000 meals served last year) and My Sister’s Place Women’s Center (80,000 meals), as well as being contracted by the city in July to run its shelter at the Fallsway, the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center.
So you’re writing a check, but want to do more? You’re not alone: While the number of homeless spiked amid the recession, one bright spot for the first responders in the fight against homelessness is that there’s been an increase in the number of people volunteering—including, in some cases, professional people who got laid off. They figure there’s no reason to stay home if they can do something useful. And they’re right.