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North Hills Monthly

It's Better to Give than to Receive: Local Nonprofits Could Use Your Help

Nov 30, 2017 01:18PM ● By Shari Berg

Bell ringers at WalMart in Gibsonia

Whether it is spring, summer, fall or winter, local charities always need support from the communities in which they serve. That support may come in a variety of forms, including financial contributions and volunteer service.

Residents in the Greater Pittsburgh region are incredibly supportive of their local charitable organizations. During the 2016 Pittsburgh Foundation’s Day of Giving event alone, donors gave an estimated $5.1 million to support local nonprofits. Since its inception in 2009, the Day of Giving has raised more than $43 million for organizations in southwest Pennsylvania. 

While giving goes on all year long, Charity Navigator estimates that 31 percent of all annual giving occurs during the month of December.

“We generally find that individuals and businesses are incredibly generous toward this cause during the holiday season,” said Rose Wurzer, community engagement representative with Al’s Bike Drive of Allison Park. “The Toys for Tots program, and the fact that this program benefits needy children in our area, are both driving forces in that.”

Al’s Bike Drive, which launched in 2008, has provided bikes to the Toys for Tots program each holiday season. “When people donate money to the Toys for Tots program, the Marines can only purchase a toy of up to $30 in value. Bigger items, such as bicycles, must be donated directly. That’s where we come in,” explained Al Todd, founder of Al’s Bike Drive. “Every year, I’m told by the Marines’ groups that we support that we fill a very important need–one that would not be fulfilled otherwise.”

When Al’s Bike Drive first started nine years ago, the organization raised enough money to purchase 31 bikes. This year, the organization is setting a lofty goal of being able to provide 1,000 bikes to area children. 

“Each year, I am surprised and humbled by the generosity of people in our area,” said Todd. “The only thing I struggle with is asking for donations before it’s even Thanksgiving. Many people, like me, get upset when you walk into your local department store and see Christmas decorations before Halloween. Since we’re trying to reach a lofty goal of 1,000 bicycles, we needed to start a bit earlier than normal.”

Todd said that when it comes to donations, his organization will accept any amount a person is able and willing to give. One hundred percent of all donations go toward the purchase of bikes as the organization is run solely by volunteers. “Our biggest need is simply donations,” he said. “We will accept any amount—even $5 helps to purchase a bike for a needy child.”

Information about donating to Al’s Bike Drive is available on the organization’s website at

Al’s Bike Drive isn’t the only local nonprofit looking for community help this holiday season. North Hills Community Outreach (NHCO), an organization addressing the needs of people living in crisis, hardship and poverty in northern Allegheny County, will be operating a holiday gift shop this month. 

Director of Communications Jennifer Kissel said that new, unwrapped gifts for children ages newborn to teen will be accepted at any NHCO drop-off location. Locations include the following:

• NHCO main office, 1975 Ferguson Road, Allison Park

• NHCO Millvale, 416 Lincoln Avenue, Millvale

• NHCO North Boroughs, AGH-Suburban, 100 S. Jackson Avenue, Bellevue

Drop off times for the NHCO offices are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with an additional 9 a.m. to noon 

drop off scheduled on Sat., Dec. 2 in NHCO’s Allison Park 

food pantry. Some community businesses and congregations also accept donations and those sites can be found on

Kissel advises those who wish to drop off at other sites to contact the locations ahead of time to find out their hours. Special arrangements can be made for those who are unable to make the scheduled drop-off times by contacting the NHCO main office. 

“We tend to come up short of gifts for teens each year, especially teen boys,” said Kissel. She adds that gift cards popular with teens, such as for iTunes, mall stores and restaurants, are great gifts for that age group. 

The NHCO toy drive is about more than just providing toys for children in need this holiday season. “A lot of what this is about is for kids of low-income, struggling families to be able to have a nice holiday like everyone else, because these families are just trying to provide some normalcy for their kids,” said Kissel. “It’s also important for kids to be able to fit in with their peers, and having an enjoyable holiday is part of fitting in.” 

NHCO will also be providing heating credits of between $50 and $75 for families in January as part of its Sharing Winter Warmth program. “Knowing this credit is coming onto their monthly bill is huge for many people,” said Kissel. “That heating bill can be a shock when the colder weather comes.” Last year, NHCO provided heating credits to 236 families. 

Another area of need for NHCO is food donations for its pantry; food products should be unopened and not expired. Items for which they always come up short are cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items and Pediasure/Ensure. 

Kissel said that many people are unaware that those who have SNAP benefits are unable to use them to purchase things like cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items. SNAP benefits only cover food. “If we have these items here for them, that’s money they don’t have to spend out of their own pockets and can use for other things,” she explained. 

NHCO also accepts cars and other vehicles, including 

boats and motorcycles, as donations through The cars are sold at auction to help fund NHCO’s Transportation Assistance program. “One of the top three reasons people come to us is transportation, especially since the PAT bus cuts, so car donations are something we’re always accepting,” said Kissel.

Lastly, NHCO needs volunteers to fill several key roles. In December, volunteers are needed to help ring bells for the Salvation Army campaign at Kuhn’s market in Allison Park and Walmart in Gibsonia. Volunteers also are needed to help NHCO families with tax preparation. “We’ve seen a significant number of people helped by assisting them in getting a full tax refund,” Kissel said. Training is provided to volunteers in January, with shifts for tax preparation assistance needed from the end of January through mid-April. 

NHCO also needs volunteer drivers and on-board dispatchers for its Free Rides for Seniors program, which provides transportation for seniors to doctors’ appointments, grocery runs and other in-person errands. A special driver’s license is not required to volunteer as a driver for this program, Kissel said. 

Once Upon a Hero, a Cranberry-based nonprofit that selects and assists a donor family each year, is always accepting monetary donations, said founder Dawn Hack. In early 2018, the organization will begin the process of planning its 2018 golf outing–one of the major fundraisers it hosts each year. To learn more about donating to this organization, visit its website at

And don’t forget about our furry friends this holiday season. Animal Friends’ Public Relations Coordinator Shannon Tremblay said the organization welcomes donations for its cats, dogs and rabbits awaiting loving homes.

For cats, the following 

items are appreciated:

• Wet cat food (paté style)

• Cat toys and wands (no rabbit fur)

• Scratching posts and cat beds (doughnut style)

• Litter

• Feliway products

• Cat brushes

• Kitten Milk Replacement (powdered and premixed)


For dogs, the following 

items are appreciated:

• Extra large Kong products

• Canned dog food

• Milkbone Puppy Biscuits

• D.A.P. products

• Hard rubber toys

• Nylabones

• 6’x1’ leashes


For rabbits, the following 

items are appreciated:

• Exercise pens (30 inches or taller)

• Hard plastic toss toys

• Brome, oat and alfalfa hay

• Ramps for rabbit play

• Wood hay crates

• Grooming tools

• Litter boxes

• Woody pet litter

• Wood pellet litter

• Cans of 100 percent pumpkin (not pie filling)