Way back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, my then father-in-law Dick Soens introduced me to the Shalom Center, the biggest food pantry in Kenosha. Dick knew exactly how many people in Wisconsin went hungry every year. He was an educated guy with a big heart, so he decided to be a champion for those folks.

Several days a week, Dick would get in his van and drive all over town to different bakeries and restaurants just as they were closing up for the day. These places always had leftover food they couldn’t sell stale because of Wisconsin’s food regulations. When Dick got there, the staff were usually about to haul that food off to the dumpster. (I’ve never understood this — I eat day-old stuff at home all the time!)

Fortunately, they were allowed to give those leftovers to Dick even if they couldn’t sell them. He took all of the food he could fit in his van, then dropped it off at the Shalom Center for their homeless and hungry residents to eat.

Dick taught me the magic of giving back. My family never put much emphasis on charity when I was growing up in the 1970s, but after going along with Dick on a couple of food runs, I was hooked on making a difference. Before that, I always took the roof over my head and food on my plate for granted, but afterward, I realized what a tragedy it is that we spend billions making bombs when we could be taking care of the people going hungry right here at home.

When I found out that Sunday, Sept. 5, is the International Day of Charity, I immediately thought of Dick. I also think of him when I sit down to write one of my regular checks to the Shalom Center, the Milwaukee Rescue Mission, or the Kenosha or Racine branches of The Salvation Army. I’m proud to be continuing the good work he started.

Raising my own kids, I tried to teach them some of the charitable values I could have cared less about at their age. My boys were in the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts, and I helped them organize food drives. Together, we dropped off canned and dried food to the local food bank several times. It felt good to pitch in like that for the community, and I hope it gave them the kick in the pants they needed to help people going forward.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. It means a lot that people like you are reading my stories, especially when they’re about great guys like my former father in-law. In the spirit of the International Day of Charity, I have a challenge for you: Join me in giving back this month! Below, I’ve listed a few of my favorite charities that could use your support. If you don’t have much to give right now, that’s okay — even a dollar or a single can of beans would be a great help.

Shalom Center: ShalomCenter.org
Milwaukee Rescue Mission: MilMission.org
Kenosha Salvation Army: CentralUSA.SalvationArmy.org/Kenosha/
Racine Salvation Army: CentralUSA.SalvationArmy.org/Racine/