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12 Ways You Can Support Charities Without Donating Money

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Regular readers might remember our post about helping penguins victimized by the Tauranga oil spill in New Zealand by knitting tiny sweaters. While we had a lot of interest in the article and the cause, it was only up a short time before a representative from the charity commented that they had received enough sweaters for all the needy penguins.

For all those flossers who still want to lend a hand, but don’t have the extra finances to donate cash to a worthy cause, there are plenty of others in need of your non-monetary support.

1. Little Hen Rescue

If you already bought all of your penguin sweater knitting supplies only to find out the birds were taken care of, don’t worry, other birds still need your help. The Little Hen Rescue is a UK charity dedicated to rescuing abandoned and abused chickens, many of which have lost their feathers due to stress and abuse. That’s where the need for chicken jumpers comes in. A pattern can be found on their site, along with the charity’s mailing address for your completed project.


Non-knitters can also get in on the fun with this one, as the group also provides a sewing pattern for fleece jumpers. No word yet on which one the hens prefer.

2. Leggings For Life



Leggings for Life is dedicated to helping deformed and paralyzed animals who are subject to ulcerations and infections from dragging their legs or walking in an adapted manner. As you may have guessed by their name, Leggings for Life helps these creatures by providing the animals with comfortable leggings that help prevent chaffing and rubbing.

The group, which helps a variety of different species, seems to aid creatures on a case by case basis, so patterns are presumably sent to volunteers as needed. They only maintain a small pool of volunteers at a time; right now they need a limited number of volunteers who are willing to ship their contributions out of the country. If you’d like to help, you can add the group on Facebook or email LeggingsForLife@att.net with the subject line “crocheter” or “sewer” and ask if they need any additional volunteers at this time.

3. The Snuggles Project

Most shelter animals are left in small cages with little warmth or comfort. The Snuggles Project works to give these animals security blankets that provide them with much needed comfort and warmth while the creatures wait to be adopted. Sewing, knitting, and crocheting patterns are available on their website, along with a list of shelters around the world that are accepting such donations.

4. Coats For Cubs



If you aren’t good at crafting, but happen to have some of your grandmother’s old fur coats, you can still help animals in need by donating the coats to a local wildlife rehabilitation center. Fur provides abandoned animals with a warm, safe place to curl up for a nap. For many young animals, it can help provide them the comfort they will be missing without their mother’s warmth. The Humane Society of the United States has a long list of wildlife rehabilitation centers that accept such donations on behalf of their animals. If you wish to donate to a local wildlife center not on their list, The Humane Society recommends calling in advance to ensure they accept such donations.

5. Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation

For those who prefer to help mankind, Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation (FoPRR) is a great place to start. This group is dedicated to helping shelters, clinics and other groups on the Pine Ridge Reservation of Sioux Native Americans. FoPRR is always looking for knitted, crocheted, and other sewn items for the people on the reservation; they are in particular need of clothing, toys, and duffel bags for the foster care children there.

6. Afghans for Afghans


It’s sadly ironic that many people of Afghanistan are in desperate need of the warmth provided by the very blankets that bear their name, but it’s the truth. Afghans for Afghans provides blankets and warm clothing to the people of Afghanistan who have been victimized by the turmoil of their country. Patterns, a mailing address, and more details can be found at their site.

7. The Painted Turtle



While it may sound like a group dedicated to painting animals, The Painted Turtle is actually a camp and family care center dedicated to children with debilitating conditions. If you want to help, the group is always accepting quilts and turtle pillows to make the kids feel more comfortable while away from home and to help them remember their time at camp. Details for quilt and afghan sizes can be found on their site, along with a pattern for the turtle pillows.

8. Chemocaps

If you’ve known someone who has gone through chemotherapy, you know just how upsetting the hair loss caused by the treatment can be. Chemocaps provides patients with hand-knitted head covers that not only provide warmth and comfort, but also remind cancer victims that they are not alone in their fight. Patterns and mailing addresses can be found at the group’s website.

9. Stitches From the Heart



If your heart goes out to premature babies and their parents, you might want to offer your support to Stitches From the Heart. They provide premature babies with blankets, booties, clothing, and hats since the tiny survivors often lack appropriately sized clothing when they are approved to leave the hospital. Volunteers are asked to refrain from using wool yarn and to ensure all items are washable. Knitting and crocheting patterns can be found on the site, along with appropriate sizing based on the baby’s weight.

10. Project Linus

As the name implies, Project Linus provides needy children with security blankets. Whether a child suffers from disease, trauma, or other need, a warm, cuddly blanket can provide them with the physical and mental comfort that they desperately need. Patterns are available on the group’s main website, but if you can’t sew, crochet, or knit, many local chapters are happy to accept any donations of unused blanket-making materials you may have lying around.

11. Nike Reuse-a-Shoe


Even if your shoes are too smelly and worn out to donate to Goodwill, you can still drop off your old sneakers at a Nike Reuse-a-Shoe center so they can be broken down and used to create materials for public playgrounds and tennis courts. While they can’t accept shoes with metal parts, dress shoes, or sandals, it’s still a great way to get rid of your stinky old tennis shoes without further crowding your local landfill.

12. Locks of Love and Wigs for Kids

Getting a major haircut any time soon? If you’re taking off more than ten inches, have your hair cut off while in a pony tail or braid and donate the trimmings to Locks of Love or Wigs for Kids. Your hair will be used to make a wig for a child who is suffering from hair loss for any variety of medical reasons. As a bonus, many salons offer discounts if you are donating your hair; Wigs for Kids has a list of such salons for those interested.

Even More Ways to Help


Even if you don’t want to leave the comforting glow of your computer, you can still help a variety of charities. Search using SearchKindly and money will be donated on your behalf to create libraries for under-served schools. Play educational games on Free Rice and every question you answer correctly will result in ten grains of rice being donated to the United Nations World Food Programme. Shop with Good Shop and a percentage of your sale will be given to a charity of your choosing. Lastly, you can read public domain books out loud while recording your voice and donate the recordings to LibriVox, where they will be made available to the public as free audio books.

If you prefer to act a little closer to home, there are always people that will need your help no matter where you live. You can knit clothing or blankets for your local homeless shelter (or give them to the people on the streets directly). You can donate blood to your local Red Cross. Lastly, you can always donate your time to a local charity in your area.

There are tons of noble non-profits out there and we’ve only scratched the surface here. That being said, if any of you Flossers happen to know any other worthy causes that can benefit from non-monetary support, feel free to leave more details in the comments.

For all you altruistic readers who intend to help one or more of these great charities, thank you for your generosity. The world could certainly use more people like you.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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