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Published: Saturday, 12/6/2008

Shoppers can give coats to needy in Toledo, goats to families in Africa

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Shopping for that special someone who doesn t really need anything?

Looking for a gift with meaning instead of just another piece of bling?

Some religious groups are stirring up the holiday spirit by offering gift suggestions that help the needy rather than promote consumerism.

You can make a donation that will honor the Christ child as opposed to pursuing the acquisition of more stuff, said Cindy Huffman, director of special ministries at Pilgrim Church.

The altruistic shopping list has been popularized by Heifer International (heifer.org), an international Christian agency based in Little Rock whose mission is to eradicate hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth.

Heifer provides livestock and essentials to people in 53 nations, plus the United States, to help them strive for self-sufficiency.

A $20 gift will pay for a flock of chicks, for example, that can promote nutrition for families from Cameroon to the Caribbean by providing protein-packed eggs.

A $500 donation will buy an udderly original gift: A cow that can produce up to four gallons of milk a day for a family and their neighbors. Heifer also offers a lower-priced option of buying one share of a cow for $50.

World Vision, a Christian ministry based in Federal Way, Wash., has a similar gift catalog (worldvision.org) that lists such items as two chickens for $25, a goat for $75, or a share of a deep well for $100.

Alternatives for Simple Living (simpleliving.org) has been fighting the commercialization of Christmas for 35 years.

The nonprofit organization, based in Dillon, Colo., prints books and brochures and offers a wealth of ideas on how to unplug the Christmas machine, as one of its best-selling books is titled.

The group s Web site offers a free downloadable Holiday Gift Exemption Voucher that asserts that the giver and recipient are exempted from having to exchange holiday gifts by order of the Buy Nothing committee.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America prints a Good Gifts catalogue, available online at elca.org/giving, that provides gift ideas from $10 for six water jugs to $25,000 to train up to 25 villages in Central African Republic on safe water management and sanitation.

For those who have much to give, a gift of $200,000 will enable the ELCA to establish an endowed full-tuition scholarship.

At Pilgrim, an Alternative Christmas display has been set up in a room full of glittering Christmas trees. Each of the dozen ministries has a table offering information on their projects and a place for people to sign up.

Those who make a donation receive certificates they can give to their families, friends, or co-workers stating that a donation has been made in the gift recipient s name to a specific ministry.

Among the charities on the shopping list are Angel Food Ministries, Feed Your Neighbor, Pilgrim s emergency food pantry, an orphanage in Jamaica, and Project Dignity, which provides clothing to the needy.

Dawn Ulrich, director of Christian education at Pilgrim, said the church received a letter from an international ministry offering similar ideas for holiday giving and the staff was inspired to do it on a local level.

Instead of buying a T-shirt for someone who doesn t need it, you can donate $25 and buy a Toledo Public School uniform for a needy child, she said.

Mrs. Huffman said a $15 gift can pay the transportation costs for a year at the orphanage in Jamaica, or a $30 donation will provide a box of food to a family through Angel Food Ministries.

There are some days when I just bawl my eyes out, so many folks need help and are desperate for assistance, Mrs. Huffman said. Instead of giving more stuff to someone for Christmas, we wanted to give people the option of contributing to a ministry where there is much need.

Contact David Yonke at:dyonke@theblade.comor 419-724-6154.



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