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Using technology to help

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It’s the time of year we love: a chance to relax with friends and family, and to eat often and well.

But even as we enjoy that feeling of well-being, we know there are plenty of others who are less fortunate. For the homeless, the hungry and the working poor, the holidays can feel like the worst of times — not the best. And so, in the spirit of the season, we’ll throw our dollars into the Salvation Army kettles, toss toys and warm clothes in large collection bins or, if we’re feeling especially altruistic, serve the homeless at soup kitchens.

Many of us would probably do more if philanthropy weren’t so inconvenient. That’s the thinking, at least, of established charitable organizations as well as new apps and websites that make giving as affordable as buying a cup of coffee and as simple as using a smartphone.

Mobile apps Tinbox and Charity Miles, for example, allow you to donate to organizations you want to support without shelling out your own money; they work with corporate sponsors to pay the donation. Then there’s the appInstead, which asks people to donate $3 or $5 to help “make life changing, and sometimes life saving, differences to people in need.”

The premise: Brew a pot of coffee instead of buying a cup of joe and donate your savings to a good cause. And the Dollar a Day website lets you contribute as much as you want or as little as $1 to that day’s featured charity. That $1 donation happens automatically, every day, once you’ve also signed up with a credit or debit card.

Even tech giant Google is getting into the act. Google.org, the company’s charitable arm, says it will donate money during the holiday season whenever anyone uses Android Pay, Google’s mobile-payments service.

One dollar from every transaction paid for via Android Pay will go to special needs education programs in the US through the charity DonorsChoose.org. Google will donate up to $1 million dollars.

The venerable Salvation Army is also building websites that make it easy for people to volunteer. “With as large of an organization as ours, we find that some volunteers are impulsive and don’t always want to wait,” says Laine Hendricks, a Salvation Army spokeswoman.

And the United Nations’ World Food Programme hopes people using its just released Share the Mealapp will help decrease world hunger. People can donate as little as 50 cents by tapping on the screen of their mobile device. Nearly 800 million people around the world are malnourished, says Constantin Fechner, a Share the Meal spokesman.

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