According to data collected in the 2007 American Community Survey, approximately 12.5 percent of Americans -- about 37.3 million people -- are living in poverty [source: Census]. Organizations have been set up all over the country to help those in need. While some of them operate at a national level, the majority are locally run by schools and churches. The opportunities for you to help those less fortunate than yourself are plentiful.
The Office of Family Assistance, which falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, operates a program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. The goals of the program include reducing the number of needy families through job preparation, work and marriage, encouraging the structure of a two-parent family. TANF hopes to achieve these goals by putting federal funding in the hands of states and allowing them to design their own unique welfare programs [source: ACF].
Many families living in poverty also live in poor-quality housing. One organization trying to change that is Habitat for Humanity. Founded in 1976, Habitat for Humanity is dedicated to providing decent and affordable housing to those in need. Since it began, Habitat has helped house more than 1.5 million people [source: Habitat]. Better yet, Habitat is an international organization that offers volunteer opportunities all over the world. If you want to get involved, chances are a project is going on somewhere near your community right now.
Often times, holidays such as Christmas hit needy families the hardest. When you are unable to feed and clothe your family, putting toys under the Christmas tree isn't a priority. Luckily, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve has set up the Toys for Tots Program so kids of financially challenged families don't have to go without during the holidays. The Corps generally starts collecting unwrapped gifts in October and continues to do so right up until Christmas [source: Toys for Tots]. On top of the toys collected, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation has helped supplement the supply through fundraising. Since its inception in 1991, they have put an extra 64.5 million toys into the mix [source: Toys for Tots].
Aside from these organizations, a number of smaller, more locally run organizations exist as well. Local soup kitchens and local businesses often have philanthropic endeavors of which you can be a part. If you want to get involved in helping needy families in your community, a good place to start is with your local schools or religious organizations. Chances are they already have outreach programs in place and will be more than happy to accept volunteers. A little help can go a long way.
For more information on volunteering, visit the links on the next page.