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Dec 032008

By Diane Porter
Green Right Now

We’re too familiar with the downsides of the holiday season. Bags of new things come into the house and get hidden in already-full closets and drawers. Boxes of decorations come out of their hiding places, muscling their way into your living space. Wrapping paper and ribbons multiply like guppies, scissors and tape go missing, cookies come out of the oven and the doorbell rings. When it’s all over, we work to find places for the new stuff, stash the decorations again and vow to make next year different.

Guess what. It’s next year.

What if – indulge us here, for a moment – what if you could simplify first this year, getting rid of things you don’t use, recycling them where they’ll be appreciated? What if you could make space now, and begin the New Year with closets that don’t look like they’ve been through a natural disaster?

You can. And you’ll feel so good, because one computer, one stuffed animal or one pair of old athletic shoes can change a life.

“You’ve heard the story about the young person tossing starfish back into the ocean when they washed up on shore and were in danger of dying in the hot sun, right?” asked Barry Cranmer, president of the Share the Technology computer recycling project. “Someone asks why she was bothering because there were so many and she wouldn’t be able to rescue them all, so it wouldn’t really make any difference.

“As she tosses another back into the water, she says, ‘it will make a difference to this one.’ “

Take a quick tour of your closets, the basement, the garage. Are there books, tools, sports equipment you no longer need or use? Old towels, a wedding dress, a wheelbarrow?

Let’s save some starfish.

The kids’ room

Kendra Robins knows her territory. The founder of Project Night Night, a program that gives books, stuffed animals and blankets to homeless children, learned when she had her son that not all toys find their forever home the first time around.

Children “find their favorites, and those get super-loved,” she said. “The other ones sit on a shelf, looking cute. Things are either tattered beyond recognition or nearly pristine.”

This year, in its fourth year of operation, Project Night Night will distribute more than 25,000 tote bags to kids who don’t have homes. Each bag will include a brand new blanket, at least one children’s book, and at least one gently used stuffed animal, most of which have been donated from kids’ rooms just like yours.

“Shelters use them for welcome gifts. All of this is new and very scary to the child, and some of the shelters are not that nice. A lot of kids are frightened, and having a stuffed animal helps,” Robins said. Books are important because homeless kids often have lower academic achievements than others. And the blankets give them something new, all their own, to cuddle for security.

Project Night Night has drop-off locations in Phoenix, Arizona, the Bay Area in California and in Solon, Ohio, and five mailing addresses around the country. You can also work with the organization to keep your donations in your own community. Project Night Night sells its Tote Bags online for $3.50; you commit to packing them and donating them to a shelter of your own choosing or one of the 300 shelters with which they already have affiliations.