Alexandria Walker works the kitchen at Cafe 458, one of several programs at the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography)

Put your best self forward

Volunteers offer the gift of time to local non-profits

Story by Thomas Bell. Photos by Jenni Girtman.

Opportunities to help the unfortunate are all around us, whether face-to-face on street corners or through service nonprofits. Standing as proxy for many more organizations, the following three will be grateful for cash donations — and do good work with them. Each also offers opportunities to get directly involved in ways appropriate for this season of celebration and giving. The glow you get from helping may be the best gift you receive all year.

Café 458

In Atlanta, we love to brunch, but at Café 458, indulging in Nutella-battered French toast or smoked salmon on a bagel helps people who are homeless or at risk of becoming so. The Sunday-only brunch raises about $75,000 per year to support the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency, which empowers close to 400 people each year to become sustainably employed.

“People want to take care of themselves,” says Dana Inman, president and CEO of the organization. The funds raised through Café 458 support training and assistance programs that help people find and keep jobs with opportunities for growth and advancement.

One graduate of the program, Francis Allen, now works as an assistant to Chef Shane Devereux. The kitchen is professionally staffed, but the wait staff is all volunteers. You should still tip your servers, though: All gratuities go directly to support the program, and diners seem inspired to give a little extra. Inman says that tips average 35-40 percent, twice the industry standard.

How to help

Dining serves as a donation, but you can also donate directly to the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency through its website. You can volunteer as a server at Café 458 or with the organization’s job search and retention programs, where you might help clients polish their resumes, conduct mock job interviews or assist with online job applications. About 200 volunteers serve each year.

Café 458. 458 Edgewood Ave. 404-525-3276. cafe458atl.com, atlantacss.org

Ten Thousand Villages

Located in a quaint storefront along St. Charles Avenue in Virginia-Highland, Ten Thousand Villages connects you to the work of artisans from all over the world. The Atlanta store is a locally run nonprofit and a franchise of the Ten Thousand Villages network, one of the founding members of the World Fair Trade Organization.

The store’s handcrafted clothing, jewelry, home decor, greeting cards, coffee and chocolate are all made by skilled artisans, mostly women, in countries and communities that would otherwise offer little opportunity to make a good living from their craft. A small paid staff is augmented by a large group of volunteers to keep the store’s operating costs low, passing the savings along to the producers.

“We start with what the artisan needs for a living wage,” says Juliet White, manager of the Atlanta store. Artisans are often paid in advance, supported in boosting production capacity and offered the security of long-term contracts.

How to help

Your purchases directly support artisans in developing countries and communities. Cash donations help cover operating costs. You can also volunteer to work the sales floor, unpack new orders, repair items with minor damage or otherwise support the store’s operations. As of this writing, the store has 18 volunteers serving eight hours per month but would like to have 25-30. Volunteers receive a 20 percent discount on store purchases.

Ten Thousand Villages, 1056 St. Charles Ave. 404-892-5307. tenthousandvillages.com/atlanta

Moving in the Spirit

Moving in the Spirit teaches dance as a means to develop social, emotional and cognitive skills that children need to thrive in difficult circumstances. Founded in 1986 by executive and artistic director Dana Lupton and Leah Mann, the organization works with young people ages 3-18, with an emphasis on Atlanta’s most challenged neighborhoods and communities.

Tuition is set below market rate to keep the program accessible, and many students receive financial assistance or full scholarships. However, the program is open to all young people. “Children who wouldn’t otherwise meet each other do,” says Erin Weller Dalton, director of marketing and communications, “and can have an experience where they really see the world from a different point of view.”

Every December, Moving in the Spirit runs a one-day Holiday Store, stocked with donated new and gently used gifts, and priced not in dollars but in points. Students earn points for various good behaviors including showing up to class on time, staying focused and exercising. They spend these points to buy gifts for themselves and their family and friends. They can even donate points to local senior centers and shelters, which then receive unsold items from the store.

How to help

About 350 people volunteer with Moving in the Spirit each year, 160 of them with the Holiday Store. Volunteers sort through donations, set up the store, work the cash register, wrap presents and assist the students in shopping. You can also donate gift items to the Holiday Store or make a financial donation to support the organization. This year’s Holiday Store will be held on Dec. 9, with setup on Dec. 8.

Moving in the Spirit. 544 Angier Ave. 404-624-5295. movinginthespirit.org

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