5 Ways to Give Back this Fourth of July

For any true Chicagoan, this weekend is the pinnacle of our city’s dynamic summer celebrations.

But this long holiday doesn’t just have to be about cookouts and fireworks; opportunities abound to express your gratitude to our forefathers by giving back, and we’ve captured five of the best. Whether you take a quick second or a leisurely afternoon, remember to celebrate all Americans, from the down-and-out to the brave servicemen and women fighting for our freedom.

1. Write a Patriotic Thank You

Want to show your gratitude to our troops overseas? Stop by a See’s Candies Shop (at Old Orchard and Northbrook Court) through July 6 to handwrite a note to an American soldier on See’s stationery. These letters, along with snacks, entertainment, hygiene products and handmade items, will be included in Operation Gratitude care packages sent to veterans, Wounded Warriors, military families and caregivers, and U.S. military deployed overseas. Operation Gratitude sends more than 150,000 care packages each year, and they recently surpassed 1 million sent. Can’t make it to a See’s store? Submit a digital thank-you note here.

2. Play Chef to Feed the Homeless

Start your Independence Day by celebrating your freedom to give back. Gather a group of friends and prepare dinner for the 35 men and women of Lincoln Park Community Shelter. Your group of volunteers is charged with all of the details of the meal: planning, grocery shopping and food preparation, as well as serving at the shelter. The LPCS is a comprehensive social service agency serving homeless adult men and women, providing interim housing, meals and targeted social services to more than 300 people annually. For more information on volunteering or to sign up with a group, contact [email protected]

3. Coach Youth with Disabilities

Flex those post-barbecue tanned muscles this weekend with Evanston’s Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN). This nonprofit volunteer organization pairs its athletes—children and young adults with mental and physical disabilities—with volunteer coaches for free one-on-one recreational opportunities. KEEN’s activities are noncompetitive and inclusive, offering opportunities for athletes of all experience levels.

Volunteers don’t need any prior experience working with individuals with disabilities or any serious athletic abilities, either. A volunteer coach’s job is to help athletes participate and enjoy different sports activities. The next KEEN session will meet Sunday, July 6, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, 1655 Foster Street in Evanston. For more information, visit KEEN’s website or contact Program Director Ayana Geiger at [email protected]

4. Retire the Razor for a Good Cause

Gents, start your…hair-growing follicles? You’ve got a few weeks left to cultivate that sweet handlebar mustache you’ve been admiring since your youth, and this time, you’ll be doing more than just emulating Tom Selleck; at the Mustache Crawl, Saturday, July 19 in River North, you’ll be benefiting a good cause too. Join thousands of (real and fake) mustachioed compatriots through a 15-stop bar crawl through River North’s best joints. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation, an organization dedicated to creating a positive cycle of awareness for pit bulls.

Bickell, the Chicago Blackhawks left winger, and his namesake foundation also work to bring rescued and rehabilitated therapy-certified pit bulls together with abused children through the Paws for Strength program. Lastly, through its Bullies Against Bullying program, the Bickell Foundation works with children who are victims of bullying, using pit bulls to teach kindness and compassion. Register up to the day of the event and receive tickets for a breakfast buffet, lunch and giveaways, as well as a T-shirt. All venues will offer drink specials, and you can show off your Fu Manchu in the multi-category Mustache Contest. Find more information here.

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5. Volunteer for Summer Recycling Fair

And next weekend, take a break from all of the patriotic celebrating and think bigger: celebrate Mother Earth! Volunteer for the Evanston Recycling Fair, Saturday, July 12, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Evanston Township High School.

The annual event, now in its fourth year, provides residents an opportunity to recycle a variety of items, securely shred documents, learn about construction projects and Evanston’s Streets and Sanitation Division, visit with green vendors and educate themselves about recycling. Volunteers will help take in and sort recyclables, direct traffic, hand out flyers and help with set up and cleanup before and after the event. To sign up as a volunteer, register on the Meetup calendar here. For any questions, contact Donna Luteri at [email protected] or call 847-886-2950.

Looking for more? Consider volunteering in your local parade or donating blood through the Red Cross to help prevent a summer shortage.