The Church is clear about charitable giving: Helping people in need is a serious obligation for Catholics. It should also be a joy. One way to make charitable giving more pleasant is to give to an organization that means something to us—a charity that does work in a city or country we love—or work with an organization that helps people who remind us of our loved ones. Or we might find a charity that operates a way that appeals to us: with originality, with practicality, with simplicity, with humor.
Charities are as varied as the people who found them (and the people they serve). Here are a few organizations that might be a good match for you.
Charities that serve inner cities.
In this country, the poorest of the poor often live in the heart of the richest cities. The folks who run these charities don’t shy away from the desperate and complicated needs of people who live there.
Former gang members can get job counseling and training, tutoring and other educational aid, tattoo removal, and assistance with mental health, addictions, and abuse. Homeboy Industries also covers tuition for training in solar panel installation.
Christ in the City believes that “no one can give what they do not have”—so college-aged kids commit a weekend, a summer, or longer to live in community, pray, and seek spiritual and intellectual growth as they serve the poor and marginalized.
Inner city missionaries build authentic friendships with poor and homeless families, delivering groceries, driving people to appointments, or doing whatever else is needed, all while spreading the joy of the gospel.
Founded by Fr. Groschel, among others, this mendicant order of friars is distinctive in their beards and hooded robes with rope belts. They are dedicated to hands-on service to the destitute. Their evangelical apostolate Catholic Underground begins with Adoration and continues with an evening of music, poetry, visual art, dancers, film, and drama.
Charities that serve women.
Women are at the heart of the family, and the family is at the heart of civilization. When women suffer, society suffers. These organizations aim to heal society by serving women in need.
Haiti is the poorest Western country—and the most dangerous for pregnant women and babies. Midwives for Haiti trains skilled birth attendants, runs a mobile prenatal clinic, staffs chronically underserved maternity hospitals, and provides traditional birth attendants with clean delivery kits.
These community homes offer shelter to pregnant women in crisis; they train moms in parenting, nutrition, budgeting; and they invite women to learn about Catholic spirituality and chastity. They also offer post-abortion counseling referrals.
Not a Catholic organization, this foundation helps sex workers find the courage to leave the industry, find a job, and heal from abuse and addiction.
This secular charity matches donated professional clothing with disadvantaged women trying to land jobs. The organization follows up with an array of training and mentoring programs to foster dignity, confidence, and self-respect.
Charities that support the disabled
Catholics understand that a person’s value isn’t based on how much they can produce or accomplish. These charities support the mentally and physically disabled because all people are made in the image of God.
This 50-year-old organization builds intentional communities where people with and without disabilities can share a faith in God and simply be friends. One of St. John Paul II’s favorites.
Disabled and abandoned babies and children in China are given medical treatment and loving care until a foster or adoptive family can be found. They offer hospice care as well as group foster homes for older children.
Impoverished disabled people around the globe gain mobility, independence, and dignity when they receive one of three models of cost-effective wheelchairs and repair kits from this Christian organization.
Special needs orphans are connected with adoptive families, who receive crowd-funded grants to cover the high costs of international adoptions.
The greatest charities you never heard of
This volunteer-run, donation-funded organization provides disabled veterans with baby carriers and helps them learn how to use them. Even parents who’ve lost arms can snuggle their babies.
An outreach to male prostitutes on the streets of Chicago, this ecumenical Catholic/Protestant ministry offers hot food and clean clothes as well as friendship and spiritual sustenance to men who survive by selling their bodies.
Babies in fragile health do best when they are nourished with the “liquid gold” of human mother’s milk. MMBNE screens donors, collects milk, and tests, processes, and pasteurizes it in preparation for distribution to premature and sick babies.
Free Crucifix (FreeCrucifix.org)
Some woodworkers decided they’d like every Christian home in the US to have a crucifix on the wall. They started making them and giving them away by the thousands.
Charities that help families cope with childhood illness and death
A death in the family is always hard, but the death of a child or baby is especially devastating. These charities offer compassionate understanding and material help to grieving parents.
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NowILayMeDownToSleep.org)
Professional photographers offer free remembrance portraits to parents mourning a baby’s death to memorialize how their children were surrounded with love during their short lives.
Assists, encourages, and advocates for parents who learn that their unborn child will be born with birth defects.
Skilled seamstresses turn donated wedding dresses into delicate burial gowns for stillborn babies and deceased infants. This service comforts parents who are grieving and overwhelmed with details and decisions.
Encourages, supports, and finds resources for parents who choose to carry a baby to term even after learning that the child will die soon after birth.
Tried and true.
These charities are well-known for a reason. They’ve been around forever, and their long experience makes them efficient, effective, and reliable.
This person-to-person lay organization offers short- and long-term assistance to the poor and suffering through myriad parish-based programs, helping with everything from electrical bills and groceries to Christmas presents.
Formerly known as the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, Unbound is a lay, Catholic global organization that receives numerous top ratings for its work helping donors sponsor children, youth, and the elderly.
A long-established foundation that offers a wide array of programs to alleviate suffering among the persecuted faithful of the world. They keep the Church strong in over 145 countries.
St. Jude provides free top-notch medical care to children with catastrophic illnesses and is a world leader in ethical (i.e., no embryonic stem cell) research for cures and prevention.
Charities that focus on education
What’s the one thing that prevents someone from changing his life for the better? Often it’s education. These charities aim to change the life trajectory of a person or family by removing the impediments to education.
Amazima Ministries sends orphaned Ugandan children to school, sponsors nutritional and medical programs, helps women sell handmade beads to support their families, and teaches children and their families about Jesus.
Both of these organizations collect funds to pay off the educational debts that prevent men and women from entering the religious life.
An international organization that uses a “two birds with one stone” approach: It encourages children to come to school by providing them with a locally sourced free meal, which nourishes them and increases their chances of escaping poverty.
American public school teachers describe what materials they lack; then, when donors contribute enough, the site purchases and ships the goods. The teachers photograph the kids using the materials and account for every dollar spent.
Charities with the goal of self-reliance
Most poor people would rather take care of themselves than depend on others. These organizations help people get what they need so they eventually can become self-sufficient.
A nonprofit, micro-loan platform where donors can lend small amounts of money interest-free to borrowers with a plan to become more self-sufficient. Over 98 percent of the loans are repaid.
Donors are partnered with destitute families in India, where local Catholic dioceses help families invest in education and small businesses. Donor families receive pictures and regular letters from their partner families.
Poor American families plot out their own paths toward self-sufficiency and are given incentives to track their progress and meet their financial and family goals. They meet regularly with other families for support and encouragement.
In many countries, widows are outcasts who have few legal rights and no way of supporting themselves or their children. The Loomba Foundation advocates for widows’ rights, trains them with marketable skills, and provides them with funds to start businesses.
Don’t see anything here that grabs your interest? That’s okay. There are hundreds of thousands of charities in the world. Just remember to check their credentials first to make sure they’re legitimate and efficient, and ask other Catholics if they do harm along with good.
And remember: charity exists outside of formal organizations. Look around you, and try to help the needy that touch your life directly before you go too far afield.