You're thinking... it's only days from Christmas. The malls are like a battlefield. Aisles are already picked clean of all the good stuff. Online stores may not be able to guarantee holiday delivery. No need to panic. Instead of something that shows up in a box or a gift bag, why not give the best gift, one that needs no wrapping, and can be purchased any time of the year, including the wee hours before Christmas: the gift of charity.
People always say, "give the gift of giving" for the holidays, and it can seem generic, like an empty platitude. And this Birdy agrees! It means more when you can find a charitable group that really represents both you and the recipient. There are a million and one good causes out there in the world, so choose as you see fit, but since we're talking giving with sincerity and a personal connection to the cause, I thought I'd share some of my own favorites, in the hopes that you are inspired to support their cause and search out some for your own, spreading the word to others.
These are some of my favorite local Washington-area groups I support:
Homeward Pet: It's a no-kill shelter, providing safe haven and care for animals, giving them the second chance to be adopted by loving folks like you and me, servicing the Greater Seattle area. They help over a thousand animals a year, rely heavily on volunteers, and have very particular requirements for adoptions to make sure animals are placed in "forever homes," and not just back into the shelter system, or worse, abandoned. It's a labor of love, it's a small organization, and every little bit helps, which they are very grateful for. It was so nice to get a sweet thank-you call from them after sending them a small donation. If you love animals or have a friend who loves animals, this is a way to give everyone the warm fuzzy feeling of doing good.
Rise n' Shine: The effects of a disease like AIDS is not just hard on the person afflicted, but their loved ones, especially children. It can be a scary place, and having a strong support system can help them deal with their fears and emotions. Started in the late 1980s, Rise n' Shine is a nonprofit agency devoted to creating that support system for children who are affected by HIV/AIDS. They provide counseling services, mentorship programs, holiday sponsorships and summer camps for children both infected and affected by the disease. Personal comfort and well-being is just as important as physical health - for anyone who has dealt with illness, it would be a thoughtful gift to donate in that person's name, knowing it will go towards helping a child feel secure.
FareStart: Everyone deserves a second chance and the ability to make a change in their life, and FareStart is one of the best programs in Seattle. Going nearly twenty years strong, they provide culinary training and job placement services for homeless and disadvantaged men and women. They operate a full sized restaurant, small cafe, and they have catering services. It's part of an ambitious goal to eliminate homelessness by 2014 in King County. Instead of managing the issue, FareStart is about ending homelessness in a sustainable way, creating a whole new workforce of skilled, motivated individuals eager to show off their culinary talents. Take your foodie friends out for an amazing meal at their restaurant, or the next party you plan, consider using their catering services.
If you want to think global/national, these are some really wonderful groups:
Heifer International: I've mentioned them several times, but Heifer is one of my longtime favorites. It's not because they take a global approach, helping wherever they can, but they take on a sustainable approach towards charity, giving people solutions for the longterm. The saying, give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime, is what Heifer is all about. You can gift livestock, crop seeds, and training to families around the world. One of the greatest evils in the world is poverty -- it breeds a sense of helplessness and anger that only grows. People want to be in control of their life, especially if they have a family. For anyone who has a family of their own, knowing their donation is helping a mother or father provide a better life for themselves and their children is a priceless thing.
Share Our Strength: Hunger is a problem worldwide, but it's even worse when it's something in our own country, especially when it affects children. Millions of American children are nutritionally disadvantaged. Their lack of proper nourishment leads towards illness as well as difficulty in everyday tasks like staying focused in schools. Many of these children are all around us, schoolmates of your children, but their families are unable to have reliable access to healthy, affordable food. This is a basic need that cannot be ignored, which is why Share Our Strength is one group taking an active stance against childhood hunger, with regular resource programs and nationwide events reminding people of the issue and how they can help. Until Dec 31st of 2011, donations will be matched by their No Kid Hungry program partners. A dollar can make all the difference, especially when it's doubled!
ShelterBox: This group came to my attention after the disaster in Japan, and I think they provide an amazing service. Japan's devastation was shocking, especially for a place with such a modern infrastructure, and it emphasized the fact that when disaster strikes, regardless of the nation, the first few days are critical when it comes to aid. ShelterBox provides emergency shelters and basic supplies during catastrophic events where it's all about getting the immediate needs of surviors taken care of. Delivered in a big green box, the kit has things like a tent large enough for a family, blankets, water storagae and filtration equipment, a stove and basic tools. There are even activity packs for children. It's not just about providing a temporary shelter, but a sense of dignity to anyone who has endured something as heartbreaking as the loss of a home and loved ones.
I hope you are inspired by these amazing organizations and all the good they provide, as well as the potential for good you can do by adding your support. The best gifts require no wrapping or bows -- and if you have a favorite charity, please add it in the comments section!
:Jaunty Fine Print: logos from listed charities - the most important part is up to you now!