Five Ways to Support Your Community This Giving Season

These niche programs and specialized services creatively address specific challenges throughout Greater Cincinnati.
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Need takes many shapes. These organizations and programs work to close invisible gaps in opportunity by serving some of the most vulnerable members of the Greater Cincinnati community. They empower youth, bring attention to problems with humor as well as generosity, and help make sure no one is forgotten. Through new clothes, bags of dog food, and open dialogue, they strive towards lasting change. They address the little things that make big differences in school, work, and life.

Here are five charitable programs changing Cincinnati in specific, and sometimes surprising, ways.

Campbell County Public Library’s “Drop Your Drawers” Campaign

Campbell County Public Library began its annual “Drop Your Drawers” campaign after Library Director JC Morgan asked Kentucky’s Family Resource and Youth Services Centers what resources it struggled to keep in stock. The answer surprised him—the agency often had to dip into its budget and personal finances to ensure local students had clean underwear.

“Clean underwear that fits is actually a barrier to learning,” Morgan says. “I just couldn’t believe that could be a problem for a child. It definitely struck me.”

With a little humor, some audience testing, and an alliance with Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants series, “Drop Your Drawers” was born. All Campbell County library branches accept donations of new, unopened packages of underwear and socks until December 31. The library welcomes items sized for children from pre-K through high school.

Last year, the drive collected more than double its goal of 7,000 items, bringing in 15,169 pairs of socks and underwear. This outpouring of generosity enabled the library to help stock not only Family Resource Centers’ shelves, but also give to families affected by the tornado outbreak in 2021.

With “Drop Your Drawers” campaigns popping up across the nation, the Campbell County Public Library dedicated a portion of its website to answer questions and provide resources for other libraries and institutions looking to host underwear drives. Perhaps even more organizations will begin tackling this widespread need with the same good-humored response.

Transform Cincy

Transform Cincy began with a meme. Rather than a gender reveal party for an infant, why couldn’t people have coming out parties for trans people? They need new clothes and a support system, too. Tristan Vaught shared the meme with friends on social media, and Nancy Dawson, who’s the mother of a transgender child, reached out. The two became the cofounders of Transform Cincy

The organization helps trans children, teens, and young adults find clothes and community. When a young trans person reaches out to Transform, they begin with a questionnaire about everything from personal fashion inspirations to practical measurements. Then the team books an appointment where the client tries on a personalized wardrobe styled specifically for them. The client decides what to take home. Clients also get a haircut as part of their makeovers. And it’s all free.

Transform keeps clients, their families, and allies in touch with activities, like karaoke and game nights, as part of its growing youth council. A support group for trans youth and their families also builds a safe space to ask questions and develop community. Vaught hopes to grow the organization to include affiliate branches in nearby cities like Louisville and Indianapolis. “We give a space for youth to be themselves,” Vaught says.

“This is a journey, not a destination, and we want to just give them the space to explore who they are. It means a lot for them to be seen as who they are, but we also just give them the space to be in the moment.”

Mindfully at The YMCA of Greater Cincinnati 

The YMCA of Greater Cincinnati partnered with local developers of a mental health app to connect young people with peer support groups. The app, Resolv, was bought by and incorporated into mental health care company Mindfully, whose services the YMCA now offers as part of its memberships.

“The word ‘mind’ is in our mission,” says Claire Miller, the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati’s director of social responsibility. “It really is that wholistic look at a person’s wellness.

While Mindfully off ers many self-help tools and resources for better mental health, Resolv grew into a feature that supports both young people and adults through one-to-one and group peer support. The YMCA focused on connecting interested members to affinity groups in the app. Affinity groups are peer support groups tailored to deal with particular issues or stresses. These range from specific mental health problems like body image to activity choices like athletics.

“We recognized through our members and our staff there was a need for support around mental health, or even self-care,” says Bill Powell, chief innovation officer at the YMCA. “We knew that we wanted to provide an opportunity for support.”

Evidence-based practices paired with peer leadership participants can see themselves in creates a strong basis for healing and growth. Youth sessions have equipped teens and young people with the tools to better handle not only their own mental health, but how to recognize problems and support peers outside of the program. “These are skill-building opportunities as well as self-building,” Miller says.

St. Vincent de Paul Coat Drive

St. Vincent de Paul has served communities in need around Greater Cincinnati for more than 150 years. Since 2001, one program has addressed a specific seasonal need—winter coats. Many families simply cannot afford the purchase of coats for each family member. Kids, especially, grow from year to year, and many need coats to help keep warm as they wait at the bus stop each morning for school, notes Kristen Gallagher, marketing and communications manager for St. Vincent de Paul–Cincinnati. “The past few years have been tough for many of our neighbors,” she explains. “So many people connect with this effort because having a warm winter coat is not only a necessity during our harsh Ohio winters. It’s also a tangible symbol of comfort and dignity.”

Partnerships with local media stations have turned the drive into a popular, city-wide event, boosting attention for and participation in the cause. While holiday music plays on the radio and broadcasters discuss dropping temperatures, it’s the perfect time to remind the audience of opportunities to give back. “WLWT and Warm 98.5 do an excellent job of helping us share this news with the community,” Gallagher says.

The organization starts collecting new and gently used winter coats, hats, mittens, and gloves through January. Coats can be dropped off at any Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky St. Vincent de Paul thrift store as well as other select locations around the tri-state.

Last year, more than 140 schools, churches, businesses, and organizations helped collect winter clothing. While donations of all sizes are welcome, coats sized XXL and larger along with coats for infants and small children are always particularly needed.

Meals on Wheels Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky’s Pet Program

Volunteers for Meals on Wheels deliver one meal a day to homebound seniors. However, the volunteers aren’t necessarily the only friendly faces in seniors’ lives. Pets, particularly dogs and cats, provide companionship, love, and hope, but volunteers noticed an unaddressed gap in care.

“The health of the seniors is tethered to the health of the pets, so if you take care of one, you’re automatically taking care of the other,” notes Skip Tate, marketing and communications manager for Meals on Wheels. “Unfortunately, we found that some seniors were putting the needs of their pets ahead of their own needs. They would not eat so their pets could eat. They would not go to the doctor so they could afford to take their pet to the vet. If we can provide them with dog and cat food, we don’t have to worry about them not eating. If we can help with their vet bills, we don’t have to worry about them sacrificing their own health. It’s a simple solution to a potentially dangerous problem.”

Meals on Wheels’s Pet Program became the solution. Volunteers break down large bags of food from the program’s supplier and make sure not only each senior but also each pet gets dinner. Generous donations go towards veterinary care and other pet needs that strain senior citizens’ finances.

“It’s been huge,” Tate says. “More than 80 percent of our pet-owning seniors believe that our support made it possible for them to keep their pet. They reported feeling healthier, happier, and less lonely, and knowing their pets are getting fed reduced their worrying.”

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