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It’s been a rough year. With the economy in tatters, many of us are looking at Christmas and Hanukkah with new eyes and wondering whether the season will be more merry than maudlin.
The Bible talks about the blessings that come in giving to others, particularly to the poor and disenfranchised. I’d like to suggest a few items to add to your shopping list — gifts that truly keep on giving for those among us in need of a hand up more than any pretty wrapped present under the tree or next to the menorah. And you don’t have to give these gifts in December; they’re gratefully accepted any time of the year.
“Anticipate charity by preventing poverty; assist the reduced fellow man, either by a considerable gift or a sum of money or by teaching him a trade or by putting him in the way of business so that he may earn an honest livelihood and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding out his hand for charity,” the great Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides said.
With this in mind, there are a number of organizations that specialize in gifts that help the poor in the developing world make a living.
— Heifer International ( offers a number of affordable options. A donation of $20 will buy a flock of chicks, ducks or geese for a family from Cameroon to the Caribbean. Birds are inexpensive to feed and provide a means of income and sustenance for years to come. Heifer International calls such livestock “living savings accounts.” For $120, you can buy a dairy goat, a sheep or a pig — a single sow can produce as many as 16 piglets for a family in one year and lives on mere scraps.
— More than 25,000 children die every day worldwide from preventable diseases such as measles and malaria — ailments that literally cost pennies to prevent. This holiday season, please consider making a monetary donation to UNICEF ( or purchasing a gift in the name of a loved one through UNICEF’s “Inspired Gifts”
program ( For $50.44, you can purchase the polio vaccine for 86 children; $17.79 will buy two insecticide-treated mosquito nets to protect children from malaria-bearing and other biting insects; and $11.76 will buy an insulated vaccine carrying case that ensures life-saving vaccines will be properly refrigerated as they’re carried into rural areas around the globe.
— Unfortunately, stressful economic times have sparked a surge in domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen an increase in calls of nearly 20 percent since last year. Make a donation to organizations such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence ( If you have an old cell phone sitting in your desk drawer collecting dust, consider donating it to the NCADV’s “Call to Protect” program, which provides victims of domestic abuse with free mobile phones for use in emergency situations.
— Perhaps next to that old cell phone in your junk drawer you also have a few gift cards that are either unused or have just a few dollars left on them. The National Retail Federation reports that 81 percent of consumers received at least one gift card last year; an estimated 10 percent of those cards are never redeemed.
Rather than letting them go to waste, why not send them to an organization that will make sure they get into the hands of folks who will actually use them? ( collects unused or partially used gift cards and sends them to organizations that sorely need them, such as Habitat for Humanity.
— Christmas, of course, celebrates the birth of Jesus, who was born to a poor, unwed teenage mother from the developing world. So, this year, how about giving another poor mother the gift of a safe birth? In sub-Saharan Africa alone, an estimated 265,000 women die in childbirth each year, and worldwide 1 million young children die yearly as a direct result of the death of their mothers. Maternity Worldwide
( provides medical training, midwifery services and covers medical costs for poor pregnant women in developing countries. A donation of about $70 will cover the cost of an emergency Caesarian in a hospital; about $23 will sponsor the safe birth for a mother in Ethiopia.
Remember what that angel said: “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people … unto you this day is born a savior.”
By Cathleen Falsani
Religion News Service
Cathleen Falsani is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, and author of the new book “Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace.”
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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