Do more than write a check. Find ways to give back right in your own neighborhood.

Area 41 Pizza Owners
Pizzeria co-owners Jeff Jackson (left) and Patrick Hankins have turned a community gathering spot into a good cause.
| Credit: Van Chaplin / Styling: Caroline Murphey

Sometimes doing good takes no more effort than following your normal routine. Whether it's grabbing a pizza, gardening, walking, or recycling a used cell phone, you can find ways to make the world a little better.

Turning Diners Into Donors
Jeff Jackson and Patrick Hankins love dogs. As co-owners of Area 41 Pizza Co. in the town of Mount Laurel, Alabama, just outside Birmingham, they cater to canines and their caretakers when they stop by to relax on the sidewalk patio.

A couple of regulars approached Jeff about finding a way to help their volunteer group Hand-in-Paw with a fund-raiser. "I've seen therapy dogs in action," Jeff says. "I've had the chance to see how people who might not respond to humans respond to animals."

For two years, the restaurant has designated Monday evenings during spring and summer as Paws on the Patio, where pets and owners gather for drinks, pizzas, and playtime.

Jeff sometimes brings his own dogs, Ike (a boxer) and Sam (a cocker spaniel).

The nonprofit group, which trains therapy animals, occasionally brings as many as a couple dozen dogs to the events to show firsthand how they bring comfort and compassion to those in need.

The best part? The restaurant gives 8% of its sales from the entire event to the organization. All diners have to do is show up.

Pam and David Fetterolf, along with their daughter, Drew, and their 192-pound English mastiff, Alex, live in Mount Laurel and dine at the pizzeria weekly―but only recently learned about the special fund-raiser. "We're really excited about this," Pam says. "This is something we saw going on last year, and we're very happy to be able to participate in it."

David says, "We will make it an every Monday night thing now."

Bountiful Harvests
Thanks to your green thumb and your love of locally grown food, your garden provides an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. Maybe an overabundance.

Rather than letting your excess harvest go to waste or foisting yet another basket of squash on your neighbors, consider donating it to your local food bank.

Sure, most groups take canned goods and other nonperishables, but they'd love to have your newly collected berries, tomatoes, peppers, and more.

To find a food bank in your area, contact World Hunger Year or 1-866-3-HUNGRY). Be sure to contact your local agency directly to ensure it can accept fresh fruits and vegetables.

Strikes, Strolls, and Sambas
Wouldn't it be great to have people hand you money to have fun? By bowling a few frames or walking for exercise, you could be raising money for charity while doing your favorite activity.

You find the sponsors, collect the money, have the fun, and turn in the donation. You've just turned your leisure time into a cause.

Perhaps you like bowling. Big Brothers Big Sisters has raised money for more than 40 years through its annual Bowl for Kids' Sake program.

Or maybe you're on the move. The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, celebrating its 26th anniversary this year, raises funds for breast cancer detection and research through more than 100 races annually.

If you dance or play softball or even bingo, chances are a nearby nonprofit group needs you.

Call Forwarding
You'll probably replace your cell phone within the next year. Don't even think about throwing away your old one: Not only is it bad for Mother Earth, but that phone still has life in it.

HopeLine, which was started by Verizon Wireless in 1995, collects donated phones to refurbish. They go to victims of domestic violence through agencies or are sold to raise money for these groups. The ones that can't be salvaged are disposed of in an eco-friendly manner.

The Call to Protect program from the Wireless Foundation also takes old phones to benefit domestic violence agencies.

Two kids with $21 started Cell Phones for Soldiers. Donated phones are sold to pay for prepaid calling cards for armed forces personnel who are stationed overseas. Your old model can help a soldier call home to hear a friendly voice.

You have options. Many organizations take phones as fund-raisers for a wide variety of crusades. Tip: Make sure the collection company has a "no landfill" policy so you know your phone won't simply end up trashed. Also consider buying a refurbished phone instead of a new one when upgrading.

Seeing Red Shopping for yourself could bring cash for causes. The (RED) campaign represents the latest in tying donations to purchases. A portion of all sales goes to The Global Fund, a nonprofit group fighting AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Products available for purchase include computers, clothes, greeting cards, phones, and MP3 players.