Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Different Kind Of Gift

posted by Aunty Cindy

The holiday season is almost upon us. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!?! (Aunty stops shuddering and pulls herself together.) This year, instead of tearing out all your hair trying to find the right gift for that impossible person, I'd like to make a suggestion: Make a donation to your favorite charity. I'm sure you can think of one, but allow me to tell you about one of MY favorites.

I might not be here today if it were not for The American Red Cross.

No, fortunately I was not a victim of some terrible disaster and the Red Cross did not have to swoop in to offer me food and shelter. My story is a bit more personal and smaller in scope.

The year was 1943, and my paternal grandmother, Mary was a single mom struggling to raise her two sons (my father and his younger brother) in West Texas where she worked as a waitress in a cafe. Mary received a letter from her younger (and only) sister, who was living in California while her serviceman husband was fighting somewhere in the South Pacific. The letter did not contain good news. Little sis had suffered a miscarriage, and the doctor would not release her to go home from the hospital unless there was someone who could help take care of her. "Please come and help me!" little sis begged.

Mary wanted to, but she had no car and very little money. Then someone, perhaps a co-worker or customer, told her that the Red Cross helped the families of servicemen, so Mary went to the local office and talked to a woman who worked there. She showed the woman the letter and told her how much she wanted to go to California. The woman told Mary to go down the street to the bus station and find out how much one way tickets would cost for her and her two sons. Mary did, and quickly came back and told the woman the amount. The woman immediately wrote out a check and handed it to an astounded Mary.

But when Mary looked at the amount, she gave the woman back the check and said, "You've given me $20 too much."

The woman shoved the check back into Mary's hands and replied, "It's a long way to California and you'll need to feed those boys something."

A week or so later, Mary and her two sons arrived in California. They never went back to West Texas.

Without the help of the American Red Cross and that kind employee, Mary and her boys might never have made it to California. My parents never would have met. I wouldn't be here.

I make regular donations to the American Red Cross. This holiday season, I plan to make one in memory of my grandmother, Mary.

Please tell us, who are some of your favorite charities and why?


Anna Campbell said...

Oh, Cindy what a lovely story! My favorite charity is a local one. Cittamani Hospice (pronounced Chittamarni) is a group who operate out of the hinterland here and help people die in their own homes. They give equipment, 24-hour support, whatever you need. Six years ago, my father had cancer and there was nothing we could do for him except try and keep him as happy as possible. Going to hospital (he was fiercely independent) made him horribly miserable and every time he had to go in, his condition went back by miles. Thanks to Cittamani, my father died at home in the environment he loved and surrounded by the people he loved. He looked out on the lake outside his bedroom. He had the things that were familiar to him around him. The people who worked for this charity were the finest people I've ever met. It's so tough to go into a family at such a difficult time without being intrusive. But somehow they managed it. A couple of the carers almost became like family themselves. And my family, believe me, weren't the sort of people who liked strangers hanging around. But the Cittamani people were sensitive enough to know just how to handle the dynamics in the household. They then stayed in touch with my mother until she passed away five years later. They'd call to see how she was going and offer words of advice and encouragement. Again, always without being intrusive or officious. They've become my charity of choice. Because we live in an area that's full of retirees, they've always got more requests for help than they can handle.

Kirsten said...

AC, that story is just wonderful. I was just thinking about this year and how to pull back on all the gifts and consumption. My husband and I are trying to have a very "deliberate" holiday season--really thinking through our purchases and gifts. Several years ago I asked my folks to send something away to a charity for my presents, and I'm going to do the same for their presents.

My favorite charities:

The Nature Conservancy
Habitat for Humanity
Local Food Bank

But my favorite for gift giving is:

They have a number of different charities with gift ideas (you can give a water buffalo for Christmas!) that are really fun and worthwhile. And it's a very highly rated charity with direct ties to indigenous organizations around the world.

Thanks for sending out the call--just imagine how much we could do if all that holiday spending went towards needy folks around the world.

(Except for the spending on my kids--I do love buying presents for the little ones!! ;-) )

doglady said...

What great stories Aunty Cindy and Anna C ! Those charities are what charity is all about. My favorite charities are animal related, of course. There is an organization called Best Friends that did outstanding work in New Orleans after Katrina rescuing pets that were left behind and helping to pass legislation that will prevent pets from having to be left behind again. I have some friends (veterinarians and vet technicians) who went down to volunteer with Best Friends. I cannot tell you how many elderly people they found drowned in their homes with their beloved pets because they refused to leave them behind. One of the pets who survived after his owners died came to live with me. Boudreaux is half beagle / half basset hound. I call him a bagel. He is an absolute doll with a very soulful New Orleans style bark. I donate to Best Friends and to our local animal shelter. I also do the annual Breast Cancer fund raiser walk every year in honor of the former president of our humane society. She lost her fight with breast cancer three years ago after a valiant ten year fight. For those ten years the shelter and the animals were her cause and quest. My beloved Great Dane, Glory, did the walk with me all three years. She will not be walking with me this year as I lost her to bone cancer last Christmas Eve. Christmas is a great time to remember the charities that mean so much to us.

Christine Wells said...

I have tears in my eyes, AC. That's such a beautiful story. And Anna, what a wonderful group the Cittamani Hospice must be. It must have been such a comfort knowing your father passed away where he wanted to be.

Kirsten, I'm a big fan of Christmas, so I don't believe in giving to charity instead of giving to friends. I love finding the perfect gift. And, as you say, buying for the little ones is fun.

Doglady, like you, I'm a supporter of animal welfare, because such unimaginable cruelties are inflicted on animals and they have no voice to speak up for themselves. Christmas is the worst time for animal shelters because people give animals as gifts and those animals get dumped. I'm so sorry to hear about Glory, Doglady. I have a soft spot for Danes, as we have had two Dane crosses, one who died earlier this year.

Lovely post, AC.

Caren Crane said...

Oh, Aunty, you made me teary-eyed this morning! My husband and I are both great believers that it is better to give than to receive. As a result, I end up giving to friends and families and a slew of charities, as well. We don't have loads of money, just big hearts. *g*

Friends of Ft. Liberte is a group out of West Virginia who work with a local minister in Ft. Liberte to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care and education to the people. It is entirely volunteer-run and has almost no overhead.

We also give monthly to the Zimbabwe Orphan Endeavor (ZOE). This ministry provides food, medical care and life skills to the orphans caused by the AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has the highest number of orphans per capita in the world and this is one of the on-the-ground efforts to improve life for these young people and enable to care for themselves and their siblings in the future.

Church World Service, which Kirsten mentioned, is also a wonderful effort which gives people ways to help people help themselves. Ways to accept charity with dignity.

Also Charity Navigator provides ratings on any charities to which you may consider giving, based on their expenditures, impact and how much of each donation gets to its destination. It is worth checking out if you are vetting a charity, though they don't evaluate 501(c)(4) organizations.

Thank you, AC, for helping us get into the holiday spirit! And congrats on the Golden Rooster, Anna C--I'm sure he's glad to be out of Aunty's pot and back down under!

Caren Crane said...

Ack! Blogger ate part of my comment. I was explaining that Ft. Liberte is an incredibly poor village in Haiti, where the people have suffered from political corruption, numerous natural disasters (like hurricanes) and a severe lack of resources to things like food, clean water and education. Friends runs an orphanage and sponsors a clinic and a program where families may help an individual child and her/his family, which is what my family does.

Kirsten said...

Anna, my sister in law worked in hospice for a long time, and I have always been amazed that people can learn to become a part of so many families, and go through so many losses. My SIL believes it's a privilege to help people through their grief. I think they're just angels disguised as people.

Doglady, I should have known you would have an inspiring animal story for us. I am in awe of all the people who helped after Katrina. Your little bagel sounds adorable. I wish we could share pictures!

Christine, I also love searching for gifts! I'm trying this year to be creative and think about gifts that are either consumable or service oriented that don't require lots of resources to produce. We will have to make sure our December blogs provide an opportunity for us to share great, sustainable gifts for the holidays!

Caren, those area all great ideas. And the Charity Navigator is a great idea for checking to make sure your dollars are really going to the people who need them.

Joan said...

Wonderful post, AC. Really makes you stop and think about the important things as the holidays approach.

I haven't had personal experience with hospice save how they helped my CP out when her mother had cancer. In the ranks of nurses, these special caregivers have my deepest respect.

There are lots and lots of charities I support on a rotating basis: The American Heart Association. My mother died of heart failure and I fervently wish them to find a cure. The American Red Cross also ranks up there.

The Salvation Army Angel Tree. Don't know if that is national or not, but during the Christmas season you can adopt an angel (A cut out of an angel with a child's age, first name and sizes for clothes.)You make your purchases and bring it back in time for Christmas. It's kind of nice having even this much of a personal touch when giving.

One local charity I love is called "The Crusade for Children." This effort was begun over 50 years ago by a local television station WHAS. They began a televised marathon asking for donations to be used to help the handicapped children in the Kentuckiana area. Back in the day, they would have famous actors and actresses come and entertain.

Children would collect from neighbors. Churches would collect after services, trek downtown and wait in line to deposit their money in fishbowls. Then, the story goes, actor Pat O'Brien was here and issued a challenge to the Catholic churches in town to donate en mass. And they did. The Archdiosese of Louisville is one of the top contributers.

A local captain of a volunteer fire department Pleasure Ridge Park fire district(um, MY area thank you very much :-) Proposed that the firefighters pitch in. Thus began the tradition of the firefighters standing at roadblocks collecting money in their boots and hats.

This soon became a friendly rivalry with each department vying for top honors. (Ahem, again my PRP guys have held it a LOT). PRP! We're number 1 :-)

Even now the Sunday morning of the Crusade has WHAS reporting on all the programs and special children who have benefited from these funds. Tear jerking? You bet.

It still sends a chill up my spine though when a fire department (esp. PRP) arrives at the studio, sirens blaring. They march in read all their thank you's (businesses contribute food, drink etc. to sustain them) and announce their final total.

In the past the traditional song to sing as all that coin was spilled into the fish bowls was "When the Saints Come Marching In." A powerful moment.

Donna MacMeans said...

Cindy - I had a brush with the Red Cross earlier this year. I have two nephews in the army. One is currently stationed in Hawaii, the other is in basic training. When my mother died this spring, we wanted to get word to all the family members. My SIL asked that I call the local Red Cross and ask them to verify my mother's passing with the funeral home so my nephew in Hawaii would be allowed leave to come back. My sister also asked that I call Red Cross so we could get word to the nephew in basic training of Mom's passing. We'd heard that it's nearly impossible to be allowed to leave basic, but the Red Cross got permission and arranged airfare for the nephew to make it to the funeral.

These were functions I didn't know the Red Cross tackled, but I was grateful they did.

Many of you know I have a sister with Cerebral Palsey, so many of my donations are targeted toward that foundation. I also support the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association and pray that cures and breakthroughs are found before too many more people suffer.

Aunty Cindy said...

Morning Banditas and All!

Thanx for letting me share a special story and for all the GREAT recommendations of charities who benefit from gifts large or small.

Foanna, the hospice people truly ARE angels in disguise. They came in and allowed my mom to pass in comfort and the surroundings she loved best. Cittamani (there's a good Italian name!) sounds truly wonderful!

Kirsten, I too support Habitat for Humanity (they have a local retail store here in my town) and the Nature Conservancy. In fact, the DH is leaving a sizable contribution to the latter in his will.

I read about Best Friends, Doglady, and hope their legislation gets enacted QUICKLY! Maybe they won't have to go out again like they did after Katrina. I would be one of those who would NOT leave my pets behind, NO MATTER WHAT!

One of my best friends volunteers for the local SPCA and I give bags of my 'non-keepers' to them for their annual used book sale.


Anna Campbell said...

What incredibly inspiring stories. Thank you so much for sharing them. Cittamani actually isn't Italian, AC. Although the first time I heard it, I thought it was too. They're affiliated with the Buddhist monastery up in the hills although they come in purely to help, not to push their religion and most of their employees are health professionals. These women (we had all women) were incredibly wise - I think because they're dealing with life and death on a daily basis, they just don't have time for the cr*p.

Doglady, my heart went out to you about losing your dog (I know we've talked about this privately). I knew you'd have some wonderful animal stories for us!

Actually I have to say Christmas is a time when I make a fuss of the people I love so I tend to go mad with the gift buying too. Hey, shoot me (with that big water pistol I just bought you!).

Caren Crane said...

Doglady and AC, my older daughter is working on her Girl Scout Silver Award right now. She and a friend are working with a local non-kill cat shelter called Cat Angels. The girls are not only volunteering there, but are collecting much-needed items, creating laminated posters to be posted at local grocery stores, etc. about how people can help out and doing a workshop for younger kids on how to select, care for, play with and treat cats. She wants to be a veterinarian (like my father was).

Aunty Cindy said...

Caren, THANX A BUNCH for the link to Charity Navigator! And your other links as well. You and Kirsten mentioned churchworldservice, whom I'd not heard of, but have either of you (or anyone else) heard of Project Heifer? This is another charity that gives animals to families as a source of food and income. My best friend, Whit gave a gift of rabbits to a family in my name one year.

Joan, thanx a bunch for sharing the great story about your area's local Crusade for Children. Gotta LOVE those firefighters! In our area, they pass around boots at major intersections collecting for burn victims at our local St. Jude Children's Hospital.

Oh, and since I lost my mom to cancer, the American Cancer Society is near the top of my list also.


Caren Crane said...

AC and Kirsten, I too contribute to Nature Conservancy. I live in an area of rampant development and local groups have to fight like mad to keep any bit of nature intact here. It is really sad, because we live in a gorgeous part of the country. The developers here make me feel like the Lorax! *g*

Helen said...

A lovely post AC and everyones stories are so lovely.
I love spoiling my family and friends at Christmas and always spend too much.
As for charities I am always glad to help the Salvation Army they help so many people and have done all around the world for many years and the RSPCA that helps the animals I have a real soft spot for animals.
Have Fun

Aunty Cindy said...

WOW! So many wonderful posts! Aunty may run out of tissues... Where is Cassondra with her hankies?!?!

Donna, I think a lot of people only know about the Red Cross' disaster interventions, but they do a LOT more. Glad your nephews were able to attend your mom's service. I KNOW it meant a lot to them.

Yes, Joan, the Salvation Army has Angel Trees here in my town too. The DH and I try to pick two or three angels (we try to pick teens, because most people pick younger kids) every year. For our Oz girls, does the Salvation Army have them in your neck o' the woods too?

Caren, what a KEWL thing for your daughter and her friends to do. And even MORE KEWL that the Girl Scouts recognize (and reward) her efforts. UCDavis (20 minutes from my house) has one of the top vet schools in the US... just thought I'd throw that out.

who'd have NEVER thought Cittamani was BUDDHIST! ;-)

Suzanne Welsh said...

AC what a moving post! Our family has had a very personal involvement with The American Red Cross (ARC), too. My mother-in-law became a full-time disaster relief volunteer after retiring from teaching nursing students. From the late 1980's until 2000, she worked intimately with FEMA and the ARC to help at Hurricaine Andrew, the great midwestern flood, California EarthQuakes, several hurricaines in Alabama and Georgia, as well as flooding in two Innuet villages in Alaska. My children understand about sacrifical helping for others through her example. :)

Currently my husband and I sponsor two families in Indonesia and the ARC.

Susan Seyfarth said...

Hi, AC! I'm so glad you mentioned the Heifer Project (, because it's one of my favorites. We give to that one every year because I love the idea of giving people in need the resources to get themselves OUT of need, so to speak.

I also make a point to give to our local food shelf. It serves specifically our school district, which is relatively affluent, & it blows my mind to think that there are kids IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD who don't have enough to eat.
Now that my kids are getting older, I'm trying to involve them in the process, too, so they get the idea that part of being thankful for our gifts is learning to give with a grateful heart. My oldest loves picking out our gift from the heifer project. Where else can you pick between a basket of chicks & a trio of bunnies??


Caren Crane said...

Helen, I also greatly admire the Salvation Army. I love hearing them ring the bells every year when they are collecting money! The worst thing, to me, is when people sidle by the ringers without making eye contact.

It is disheartening every year, because we always notice that the people with more--the ones who obviously want for nothing--give the least. My brother, mother, two sisters and in-laws are very involved in the Lions Club, who work with the blind and visually-impaired throughout the world. They have a similar experience when they are passing out mints and taking donations. Those with the least give the most.

My mother's theory is that those with less have either benefited from someone's generosity or they have family members who have. In other words, it is close to them. It is harder, I think, for people who have never wanted for anything to feel they should help others. I think that is what motivates parents (like those here) to get their kids involved in community service. So they have a real sense of the needs of others.

Sadly, there were many parents who did not do that for the kids of my generation. Now those kids are parents with children who often have no "giving" role model. A sad cycle I hope will be broken!

Caren Crane said...

AC, we also pick the teenagers from the Angel Tree each year and for exactly the same reason! Imagine being at the time of life when you most need clothes and shoes (because you are outgrowing them like crazy) and people don't want to help because they would rather buy toddler clothes! I always feel those almost-grown kids need help the most. They need to feel that someone, somewhere, cares about them and that the world is not a completely cold and heartless place. I always send a special prayer along with the Angel Tree gifts for those teenagers who are so very vulnerable.

Um, is my bleeding heart showing yet? *g*

Joan said...

This hasn't anything to do with Christmas per se but illustrates what Caren's mother said about those who have the least giving the most.

I became friends with a young couple several years ago through church. Both had come from less than ideal backgrounds but they had found each other, married and had a child. They decided that they needed God in their life so they came to our church. I was their sponsor for RCIA (the ONLY year I had agreed to do that despite being asked before).

We became fast friends and I was so impressed with their drive to provide for each other and their small family. One year, the husband got laid off from his job. They had little family support and so...I chipped in some to help...bought grocery store cards, took her shopping for their son's school uniforms. Other general "this will help ease the burden" things.

The mom was pretty overwhelmed and stunned when you get down to it. I told her the only thanks I wanted was her pledge to help somebody else like this when she had the resources.

I she has. Every year they go get several Angels from the tree. She has donated to our local St. Vincent de Paul. She has not forgotten.

I'm so proud of her!

Anna Campbell said...

Oh, man, Joan, what a wonderful story. And GOOD ON YOU!!!

Aunty Cindy said...

BIG THANX to everyone for the wonderful stories and suggestions for very deserving charities! We Banditas and our buddies are an amazing bunch.

Aunty is off to the depths of the lair for a few days into her "deadline cave." If I don't see everyone by Thursday, have a GREAT HOLIDAY for those here in the US, and everyone else... ENJOY!


Caren Crane said...

Aunty, I hope you have the cave well-stocked. We don't want you stumbling out after your deadline looking frail and wan. Joan, you didn't send a gladiator out to AC, did you? If you did, I'm afraid the deadline is in jeopardy and we may never see Aunty again!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Like AC and Donna, my Mama died of cancer, so I support the American Cancer Society, and because my husband has Asthma, we support the American Lung Association, but my favorite charities are Heifer International (which someone already mentioned) and The Carnivore Preservation Trust (CPT.)
As Susan menitoned, the reason I love Heifer is that they follow the concept of "teach a man to fish" as well as mandating that the recipients then pass on their knowledge in the "each one teach one" concept. (Yeah, Joan and your friend for that pay it forward drive too!)
The CPT, works to preserve key links in our food chain - predators - building genetic databases for these gorgeous endangered animals.
I support a lot of things on a rotating basis, from my local food bank and women's shelter, to Project Backpack, which as Caren mentioned, supports teens who are in need with both school supplies, high protein snacks and nutritious meals after school while they do their homework.
As to presents, I have several family members who are the sort that you think, what do you get the man who has everything? I DO usually donate to a favorite charity in their name because I seldom can find that "perfect" gift. For everyone else, especially the kids, I have a great time finding just the right thing. We try not to go overboard, but we do enjoy the gift giving and celebrations!
AC, I LOVE the story of your Grandmama's trip to CA. We're so glad you're around and I'll thank the Red Cross in your name and that of Mary sometime too! :>

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Ooooh, Joanie, I'm heading into the deadline cave too, does that mean I can borrow a gladiator too? Can I, can I, puuuuuh-leeeese? I'll be gentle with him, I promise....

Joan said...

Ah, I don't know Duchesse, the boys have been kind of traumatized. Oh, sure fighting wild beasts is tough but they claim nothing has ever had them "on their toes" more than being with a Bandita.

Demetrius, stop whimpering.

What, Marcus? You say if chocolate is offered and you can take your trident you would brave it? Hmmmm...

Kate Carlisle said...

So many wonderful stories and good causes to support. I'm going to look into some of them (a water buffalo? wonderful!) so thanks for all of it, and thanks, AC, for your heartwarming story.

For myself, because the Veterans Administration was so invaluable when my dad was sick, I give to a local group that supports the families of disabled vets who live at the VA.

We also give to the Union Rescue Mission in downtown LA because there are so many homeless people in our area who are so lonely and in need of help, especially around the holidays.

We have several close friends afflicted with MS, so we give to that organization yearly in hopes of finding a cure.

And finally, whenever there is a disaster anywhere, we send a check to the Red Cross because they are always on the spot.

Thanks again for the reminder to think outside of myself and spread a little kindness this time of year. :-)

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Joan, tell Marcus I have a fire pit and he can use the trident to roast marshmellows...we'll make S'Mores.... Snork. He can feed them to me as I write, help me keep up my strength.

Joan said...

Nothing he likes more than...S'mores :-)

He's on his way but remember at the stroke of Thanksgiving he has to be's in the rule book :-)

p226 said...


Cassondra said...

Okay Banditas, you're confusing poor P226. He thinks you're talking about the SEAL trident. He's not in on the whole gladiator joke. I've tried to fill him in, but hey, none of the big hunky, scantily-clad Romans have ever visited Southern KY. Joannie keeps them locked up in Louiville.

Keziah Hill said...

I really like Oxfam Unwrapped. It's wonderful to think you can buy a chicken or a well or a goat or a primary care health worker for a village in a developing country.
It's particularly good for work settings. Instead of doing a Kris Kringle, your work mates can get together and buy something that will really make a difference.

I also knit squares for the Blue Mountains East Timor Sisters the Blue Mountains in NSW has a partnership with a mountainous region in East Timor that is cold. So we raise money for them and do fun things like knit-ins.

Caren Crane said...

Keziah, those both sound wonderful! I have bought an Oxfam gift for a friend some years ago and she really appreciated it. And here in the USA, Guideposts magazine has an article each year where they offer to send you a really easy knitting pattern. They ask readers to knit sweaters and send them to their office. They always post follow-ups months later and throughout the year so people can see the sweaters on needy children throughout the world. Blue Mountains sounds fab! Thank you for doing that.

Er...I had a friend try to teach me to knit a couple of times. I think it's too spatially-visually oriented. I had lots of trouble! *g*

Keira Soleore said...

Every October, through the company's giving campaign we support various charities, some are constant and some are rotating, as a percentage of our annual income. Over the years, we've supported literacy in Asian villages, adopted a mountain gorilla, and made potable water available for far-flung African villages. Most of our efforts have been in education and eradication of disease, except for that one gorilla fling (oh, Bikereri is so cute!). We regularly support our local library, because I think the availability of free books is one of the best perks of being an American.

Keira Soleore said...

Foanna, I believe, Chitta-maani means where the mind and body are at peace.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Keira, thanks for that. It makes sense, doesn't it?

flchen1 said...

What a terrific story--thanks for sharing that!

We like supporting Habitat for Humanity, and also sponsor a child through Compassion International.

We also like to support a couple of local organizations that work directly with people in need--Samaritan House in San Mateo, and Today's Youth Matter.

There are so many wonderful groups--thanks for bringing some to the forefront today :)

Caren Crane said...

Keira, what a great employer you have! Mine only ever sponsors United Way. They do good work, but have loads of overhead expenses.

Flchen1, my Girl Scout troop is helping out a group that is new to us this year: Stand Up For Youth. Their volunteer counselors seek out kids who are homeless and living on the streets and try to get them into shelters and back into society. It is a tragedy when kids don't have a safe home to go to or feel they can't go back. Thank you for all your charitable works!