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Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 12/18/2010

My Christmas wish: to play Santa to hungry children

A longtime Christmas wish has come true because I made it happen.

Many years ago I read about Heifer International, the organization that fights hunger in the Third World and other countries. Three years ago my interest in the mission took on more tangible meaning when I traveled to Little Rock, Ark., and made a side trip to Heifer Ranch, which is an educational branch and large farm.

Finally this year I picked up the phone and called Heifer headquarters in Little Rock to give a donation that would buy an animal for a poor family.

My choice was a goat. My special request was that it be a pregnant goat, which I was assured it would be.

In my heart these few days before Christmas I am gratified to know that somewhere in the world my goat, which I have named Lily, will give milk and nourishment to impoverished children.

Why pregnant? The idea is that when the newborn is old enough it can be given to another family; thus the gift keeps on giving.

Passing on the gift is Heifer's philosophy. Every family that receives an animal signs a contract to pass on the first female offspring and also to share with the next family any skills they have learned about caring for the animal.

The Heifer International catalog offers donors a wide range of options, for varying amounts of money, from a female cow to water buffalo and honeybees. A trio of rabbits costs $10. Flocks of chickens, geese, and ducks, at $30, are also among the least costly. Silkworms, snails, guinea pigs, ostriches, oxen, and pigeons are also given to help people in developing countries. Or donors can let Heifer decide where their money is most needed rather than make a decision themselves.

A heifer costs $500 or a share of a heifer is $50. The $500 was more than my budget allowed this year and I didn't want to buy just part of an animal. I figure all or nothing. Pigs are a $120 catalog listing, but I was afraid a pig might be eaten and I wanted my gift to continue.

A goat, called the poor man's cow, was also $120, and made more sense to me. It will give milk for a long time. The average goat produces three offspring and one ton of milk a year and can subsist on vegetable waste. The Heifer spokesman in Little Rock said that goats are the most adaptable animal that is given and that they are needed in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Nepal, China, Indonesia, and North Korea. Heifer purchases the animals locally when possible because they are used to the climate.

Dan West, an Indiana farmer, is the humanitarian who founded Heifer in 1944. Saddened by the hungry children he saw while he was serving as a relief worker for the United Church of the Brethren during the Spanish Civil War, he returned home and founded Heifers for Relief. Mr. West reasoned that giving impoverished people cups of milk was not enough; they needed a whole cow.

Heifers were chosen because they are young cows that haven't yet given birth and give a continuous supply of milk. The first shipment was 17 heifers sent from York, Pa., to malnourished children in Puerto Rico. Now working in 128 countries and supported by several denominations in addition to private donations, Heifer is considered a model program for rural development around the world. Families develop self-reliance when they are given an animal or fowl to care for and that in turn will help feed the family. Equally satisfying is the dignity they gain when they are able to give to a neighboring family.

Wherever in the world Lily may be this Christmas, my hope is that she will make the children with full tummies smile.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.



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