At a Tampa Bay Rays game last year, my husband and 8-year-old son were shown on the JumboTron as they sat along the third base line cheering the team to victory. • My son considers that day one of the best of his life. • I'm quick to remind him that though his father took him to the game, it was his mother's careful eye, giving spirit and thriftiness that got those great tickets — for free. • There are a lot of perks for those who donate blood, collect canned goods or drop off clothing at local charities. Nonprofits throughout Tampa Bay tempt us to donate to their cause by offering free stuff. • So keep an eye out for opportunities to give and receive. Here are a few ideas:
Giving blood pays off
Florida Blood Services has a long list of perks it gives to blood donors, including tickets to Rays games or the movies, and coupons for Sweet Tomatoes, Chick-fil-A, Hooters, Boston Market, Subway, Shapes, Cici's Pizza, Fantastic Sams, Golden Corral and Dunkin' Donuts.
It also sometimes gives out $5 gift cards to Chili's and $10 gift cards to Walmart, Publix and Lowe's. Through October, donors get a "buy-one-get-one-free" ticket to MOSI.
"We see twice as many people when we give a gift card as opposed to without, especially in this economy," said Dan Eberts, Florida Blood Services spokesman.
The nonprofit, which needs to collect 1,000 donations a day to supply hospitals in five area counties, doesn't give coupons or tickets at every blood drive. Check its website at fbsblood.org or call toll-free 1-800-682-5663 for a list of upcoming promotions.
There is another benefit to opening up your veins.
"One of the advantages of giving blood is you receive a mini physical. You would pay a doctor for that, and we do it for free," Eberts said.
Donors also can track their blood pressure, pulse and cholesterol readings from each time they've donated. Most people can donate blood once every eight weeks.
Goodwill leads to good things
In September, anyone who donated clothing to Goodwill-Suncoast stores was given a voucher for a free ticket to the Florida Aquarium to use when an adult ticket was purchased.
"That could be a considerable savings if you had several people going," said Goodwill spokeswoman Chris Ward. "It just sweetens the deal a little bit. People were so excited and said they normally donate to Goodwill anyway but this was so nice."
One group of neighbors came in together to collect tickets to give to a family that couldn't afford the trip otherwise.
Goodwill offers other "deal sweeteners" throughout the year such as tickets to FC Tampa Bay professional soccer matches, tickets to the Dunedin Blue Jays and the Clearwater Threshers, coupons for free food from Checkers and discount coupons to Gap and Old Navy.
Promotions for Goodwill donors will be listed on its website at goodwill-suncoast.org.
Volunteer and boost your resume
Sometimes what you get for helping out isn't just a one-time perk. Volunteering can mean free training for skills that you can add to your resume.
United Way of Tampa Bay is seeking volunteers to help prepare tax returns for low and moderate income residents in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. No experience is required except basic computer skills.
Volunteers get free training from tax experts. The skills gained and hours of experience — as well as evidence of a willingness to help others — might help your resume stand out.
To volunteer, go to unitedwaytampabay.org/taxhelpvolunteers or call (813) 274-0926.
And about those Rays tickets …
Last year, a notice ran in the St. Petersburg Times asking folks to drop off canned goods at the Louise Graham Regeneration Center in St. Petersburg. The center, which has been operating since 1949, trains developmentally disabled adults through various programs, including shredding and sorting recycled materials.
The first 50 donors of canned goods got two free Rays tickets. They also were offering free shredding that day.
I showed up 45 minutes early to be third in line and left with vouchers for one of my son's favorite days.
Donate old books, get new ones
In September the Pinellas County School District hosted a book swap. Kids who brought in gently used books could trade them for something new to read.
There was also free ice cream for the first 1,000 people at the event at Pasadena Fundamental Elementary School.
Keep an eye out for similar book swaps at local schools or libraries.
Editorial assistant Emily Rieman contributed to this report. Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at 727-893-8785 or firstname.lastname@example.org.