By Sara Conrad Special to Published Dec 18, 2010 at 3:02 PM

Christmas is a looming seven days away and that means I really should start thinking about shopping for all the good little girls and boys on my list.

Ugh, every year I dramatically proclaim, "I will begin saving and shopping for holiday cheer beginning in February of this year," give or take a few poorly executed Seussical rhymes along the way.

Alas, the time has come again where I can't bury my head in the snow any longer. Time to pull out the ol' pocket book, throw on the thinking (Santa) cap, and hit the mall.

Or is it?

Last year in a last minute holiday panic I struck a chord of gift giving genius. I decided to donate money to various charities that focused their efforts on military veterans, in honor of my late grandfather Ken. It not only felt great knowing the gift would help those in need, but both my grandmother and I fought back tears as she read the donations in honor of her husband.

That moment encompassed what had been missing in so many of my Christmases past. Giving not to equal what I was anticipated to receive, but to give because it is what felt right in my heart. The moments it took to research various charities, enter my credit card information and my grandfather's name was more than any swipe of my card at the mall could give me or my grandma.

There are so many wonderful charitable organizations in the United States and our immediate area. More than I ever could imagine, actually. In one search I conducted in researching this article, I came up with over 5,000 results in the vicinity of southeastern Wisconsin. Of course there are the ones we all know and love, but what about the little guys in our local charitable community? They need support and love too, especially this time of year. Here are a few that resonated with me, and I hope they will with you too.

Cream City Foundation, 759 N. Milwaukee Street Suite 212, describes itself as a catalyst for social change on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Since 1982 the foundation has been doing just that, having spun-off from the Cream City Business Association, which was established to promote entrepreneurship and support for businesses in the LGBT community. Since it's humble beginnings it has grown to provide over $700,000 in grant dollars to organizations working to improve the quality of life for LGBT citizens.

Maria Cadenas, the Executive Director, told me the foundation is just $2,500 short of a $10,000 matching grant generously offered by local philanthropist Joseph Pabst. That's some holiday cheer if I've ever heard of it! Gifts must be made by December 31st of this year, so time is of the essence. It's like Santa Pabst is daring you to give just in time for him to scurry down the chimney. Let's not let him down.

A friend of mine recently introduced me to a Facebook fan page titled "Super Gimp". Of course, being the tongue-in-cheek gal that I am, I was intrigued. Turns out "Super Gimp", since renamed The Ability Center Inc.,, is an organization dedicated to providing athletic and fitness programming to those children and adults with physical and or developmental disabilities.

Or "disABILITIES" as founder and Executive Director Damian Buchman, proudly states. Damian, a survivor of childhood cancer, is on a mission to bring the Super Gimp name to a series of competitive teams for disabled athletes, as well as introduce his A.S.A.P. program (Adaptive Scholastic Athletic Programming) directly into schools for 6th-12th graders. But wait, Santa, don't put your list away just yet, Damian isn't finished. His one big wish this coming year is to open The Ability Center, a 140,000 square foot facility providing recreational, competitive and therapeutic athletic programming to all those with disabilities. The center will give those with limited opportunities the same athletic experiences as "able" bodied athletes. With a push of the "donate" button on his website, you can step into Santa's shoes and help make that holiday wish a reality, for so many disabled girls and boys.

I'm very fortunate in that I have limited personal experiences with cancer. But even being pardoned (for now) by the epidemic, it's impossible to turn a blind eye to the many stories of the effects of disease. Thus, I was struck by what I found when I stumbled upon Kathy's House, 600 North 103rd Street, a home built with the sole purpose to provide hospitality to family members of those receiving medical treatment in the Milwaukee area. Kathy's House was founded in memory of Kathy Kuettner who passed away in 2000 after a long battle with lymphoma. Exactly one year later her friends and family opened the doors of this home away from home in her honor.

Kathy's House is located in a quiet residential neighborhood and provides all the comforts of home to family members who make the trek to Wisconsin to support their loved ones in the most delicate of times. The house is home to eighteen guest suites which all include their own bathroom, television, mini-fridge and generous storage. On site there is a library, a computer station (as well as wi-fi throughout the property), a spacious and sunny kitchen, and a cozy media room. There is a van available to chauffeur guest to and from hospital visits and errand runs.

All the above is provided without charge to guests. It's an amazing organization that tirelessly works to bring comfort and warmth to times that are anything but. Herb Ayers, the Director of Operations, says Kathy's House's needs are very basic. Financial support is always appreciated, as is household supplies and food. Volunteers are also essential help with office work and to ensure guests are comfortable and safe. This Christmas it's sobering to envision there are families far from home, away from their tree and ornaments, their families unwrapping presents, bearing the unknown to care for their loved ones. Milwaukee is so blessed to have an organization like Kathy's House to soften their trepidations and prove home is truly where the heart is.

A new charitable kid on the block is Karma Kash, It's a clever idea by founder and all around good guy, John Mosey, who describes it as "a group that is trying to encourage people to volunteer more." Frankly, it's one of those ideas where you find yourself in a spontaneous face palm wondering why someone didn't think of it sooner. Luckily Milwaukee has John Mosey behind the charity wheel.

Karma Kash is based on the concept that "no good deed goes unpunished", and in fact, by doing good deeds partnered with Karma Kash you will be rewarded in the form of discounts at local businesses. Genius, right? (Cue the inevitable face palm)

Karma Kash is still in the developmental stages, but when it's up and running (which is very soon, promises Mosey), volunteers will be issued a Karma Kash card (or 'kard'?) on which volunteer hours will be logged. Those hours can then be traded in at local establishments for discounts. The more hours donated to local charities, the better the discounts. Not that we need incentive to be good, but let's face it, it sure doesn't hurt. Right now you can head on over to the website and donate to score yourself a Premiere Charter Membership for a $20.00 donation which will secure you a personalized plastic Karma Kash Kard and help one of the more ingenious blanketed good deeds get it's start in the charitable world.

Tis the season for good tidings & cheer. It's also the season of giving. If you're stuck in a mall-rat rut, give a charitable donation a try in the name of those you love. Be it a home away from home for those struggling with disease, a foundation protecting the LGBT community from discrimination, a card offering discounts for good deeds, a survivor paving the way for those like him to showcase their abilities, or any of the other thousands of individuals hoping and praying their charity will receive a last minute Christmas wish, there is no wrong when it comes to doing right.

Sara Conrad Special to

To say Sara is a woman of many hats would be like saying sour gummy worms are delicious: an epic understatement. Besides blogging, vlogging, tweeting and designing, she is a gal about town. Hopping, skipping and jumping all over this fair city to seek out the latest and greatest.

Since moving to Milwaukee right after high school, Sara's ADD has led her to reside in nearly every ZIP code Milwaukee has to offer. She recently moved from the Third Ward to Shorewood, and though the quieter scene isn't sucking, she vows to prove the burbs' swagger is right up there with the city's.

The Milwaukee area is one of many hats. And Sara's determined to try on each and every one of 'em.