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NATIONAL: The Holidays are here, where is your money going?

John Willoughby: Greene Publishing, Inc.

The Holiday season entails a time of love and giving. You always see Santa Claus at the front of Walmart ringing a bell for the Salvation Army, or you might see a Shriner outside of a grocery store passing about brochures about their Children's hospital. You know that basket in front of the cashier at McDonald's? That's for donations for the Ronald McDonald House. But what charities really take all of your money for the cause they support?

The debate about what charities are for-profit and non-profit has been going on since anyone can remember. Charities like Goodwill tell us that our money goes to help those in need and those claims have been disputed. You hear commercials about how Goodwill ranks among the highest charities. You also hear how Goodwill supposedly takes the clothes that are donated and sells them; in return to use that profit to support jobs and career development. Goodwill has been known to pay some of their disabled workers as low as $0.22 per hour.

The National Federation of the Blind scheduled a protest in 2012 due to the sub-minimum wage payment to workers with disabilities. Another charity that has been known to be boycotted was the American Red Cross in 2006, when the San Diego and Imperial Counties' local chapter was fined $135,000 for excessive compensation and misleading solicitation.

If you want to make sure your money is going to a safe and secure spot, take a look at the charities that really help people. The Shriners Hospital for Children opened its first hospital in 1922, located in Shreveport, La., providing pediatric orthopedic services. You might see people in local parades wearing red hats, with a long black tassel, driving silly cars. These people are involved with Shriners International, a world-known organization that raises money for the Children's hospital, so the patients don't have to.

The nearest hospital is in Tampa, and the patients who are admitted don't pay a dime. The children's rooms have a bed or two, specifically for the child's parents. The Tampa hospital does not serve as a burn unit; but when a burned patient comes in, that patient is transported to the nearest burn unit available via private jet; again, at no cost. Shriners International is a completely volunteer organization, separate from the hospital. In 2017, Shriners International won the Charity Navigator's, Four Star Charity Award.

Another charity that is actually local to all of Florida is the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranches (FSYR). FSYR was founded in 1957, designed to help the lives of at-risk children through residential care, summer camps and many comprehensive programs.

According to their website, youthranches.org, the youth ranches around Florida have helped more than 145,000 children and families. The ranches' values are integrity, quality, stewardship, character, and most importantly, children first!  FSYR relies on the donations of committed individuals hoping to see a better community in the future. FSYR states that they are “very conservative in the allocation of expenses.” FSYR also explains that they do not hire professional fund-raising companies or conduct solicitations by phone.

Before the holiday season officially arrives, consider your options. What does your heart tell you? Do you want your money to go to a CEO so he can buy a new sportscar, or do you want it to go to the millions of hurting children and families around the world? Make an impact, and donate today.

Information from FSYR and the Shriners Hospital for Children's websites were used in this article. To learn more about donating to either organization, you may visit the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranch Association's website at youthranches.org. You may also visit the Shriners Hospital website at shrinershospitalforchildren.org.

If you still aren't sure about what charities are truly giving to what is right, you can view a charity's financial information at floridaconsumerhelp.com by using the Check-A-Charity tool. You may also call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352). All charities soliciting within Florida, excluding religious, educational, political and governmental agencies, are required to register and file financial information with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

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