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Six Great Ways to GIVE This Season

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A few years ago, I spent quite a bit of my meager teacher’s income on gifts for some family members in another state, only to receive the gift of Kleenex from them.

“It’s the thought that counts!” chirped one friend. The Kleenex, you see, came in Snoopy packaging, and I happen to collect antique Snoopy items. This friend had never received Kleenex for Christmas.

It is, indeed, the thought that counts, but that experience—going to the time and trouble of finding a meaningful gift for these family members, only to receive in return a hastily-chosen item simply because it had Snoopy on the package, made me think really hard about just how gift-giving and gift-receiving has become more of a chore, and less about the joy of just giving.

The next year, I sent my family members a lovely card and a note that this year, I simply could not afford to buy gifts, as I’d lost my job. Since then, we haven’t exchanged Christmas presents, and I couldn’t be happier.

For every gift card to my favorite store or lovely gift from my mother—who truly knows what I love and how to shop for me—there seems, every year, to be another knick-knack or bauble that I’ll never use, that will end up in a closet, or in the Goodwill bin. Many of my friends agree that this is a problem, and we’ve all started a new trend in this season of giving—donating to great causes as a gift for the people we love.

There are so many great places to give. Here are some of my favorites (links provided).

1. Heifer International

Heifer International provides more than just a gift of a flock of geese or a cow—they offer a chance for a family to start a profitable business that will sustain them for a long time. This year, I plan to pay for a flock of ducks—only $20!—in honor of a group of friends. We have a common joke about rubber duckies, and we each possess our own lucky rubber duck. A starter flock of ducks can help a family eat and make money as they breed more ducks.

2. Amnesty International

For friends or family who are interested in human rights and what is being done to help people around the world, a donation to Amnesty is a great idea. Amnesty fights for human rights from the most basic—shelter, food, potable water—to the complex—political prisoners, women’s rights in all nations, and the death penalty. At the link above, you can buy gifts in their shop. This is a double gift for your loved one, as they not only get a unique item, but they know that their receipt of this item helped someone in need.

3. Kohl's Cares and Project Night Night

Every time I go to Kohl’s department store, I love to check out the little kiosks near the cash registers to see which great children’s classic is being sold for Kohl’s Cares. For five dollars, you can purchase a lovely hard-back edition of a classic children’s story, and for another five dollars, a plush toy that goes with the book. One hundred percent of this money goes to children’s charities, and you leave the store with a book and a toy that can be donated.

Of course, Toys For Tots is happy to receive these items, but you might also consider Project Night Night, which provides homeless children who come to shelters with their family a tote bag with a book, a plush toy, and a blanket to help them feel a little bit more secure in such uncertain circumstances.

4. Your Local No-Kill Animal Shelter

I’ve heard friends complain that they never know where their money is going, exactly, when they donate to national animal groups. One thing we all agree on, however, is that local no-kill shelters are a safe bet for donating, and it is a fabulous way to give back to your community.

I have volunteered with a couple of shelters over the last few years and I know that both groups are hurting for donations in these lean economic times, but the money they do get goes to immediate needs such as spay/neuter costs, vaccinations, emergency medical care for sick and injured animals, food costs, and outreach to help educate the public on animal care. Many shelters allow people to specify what their money should be used for, but know that every dollar you give to a no-kill shelter helps save lives…and prevent pet overpopulation.

That said, never give an actual animal as a gift unless you are 100% sure that animal will be placed in a true “forever home!” A puppy looks cute under a Christmas tree, but isn’t so cute when it’s wetting on the carpet and being returned to the shelter.

5. Donors Choose

With my background in public education, I know very well how hard it can be to get needed materials for a classroom. As a music teacher, having any kind of classroom budget is laughable. I spent a lot of my own money on materials for my classroom. Some of it can be used as a tax write-off, but only up to $250.

Imagine how delighted I was to hear of Donors Choose. I had two projects funded, which helped me get some much-needed supplies. And what is great is that you can donate whatever sum you want to any project that strikes a chord with you. There is a search option, by zip code, for finding projects in your community, and there is even an option for helping victims of Hurricane Sandy.

6. Occupy Sandy "Wedding Registry"

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, there are still a lot of people struggling to return to normal. Occupy Sandy created an ingenious way of receiving needed items—a wedding registry on Amazon. Simply click on items you’d like to donate, follow the registry’s directions for shipping, and in a few simple clicks, you have given aid to a great cause. While news outlets have moved on to newer stories, the regions hardest hit by this super storm are still very much in need.



With the recent chaos of Black Friday and protests on behalf of workers at the “big box” stores, perhaps it’s time to reassess the ways we give in the holiday season. I know I will be doing a lot of donating this year, and keeping my gifts to friends and family simple and heartfelt. Many of my loved ones will honestly appreciate my giving to someone who truly has a need in their honor, and I will have the satisfaction of remembering what the season is truly about—goodwill to all.

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