‘Tis the Season: Scrooge? Or Uncle Pennybags?

Damn, the holidays can be so expensive, right? The gifts. The tips. The cards. The food. The drinking. The damn catalogues that take so much room in the mailbox that the good stuff ends up folded, spindled, mutilated. And on top of that the endless stream of solicitations from charitable organizations, the gaping maw, the bottomless pit of need. It’s enough to make you want to pull the covers over your head and hang a “do not disturb” sign on the mailbox.

Still, I like the idea of tithing, at least roughly. Giving 10% of what comes in feels reasonable. If more is possible, more. If 10% is a stretch, then less. One way is to think of anyone on the gift list who really does have everything, choose a cause they care about, and make a gift in their name. Two birds, one stone. Without the killing. Plus, I get a tax deduction, and they have one less thing that needs dusting. Or, rather, not one more thing. Anyway.

I’m sure your mailbox is no less full than mine, and you probably already have your own favorite worthy causes. In fact, I invited you to mention them in a comment. But just in case you’re in the market, I’m going to tell you about some of my favorite organizations, most of which aren’t especially high profile. There are so many more. The need can feel overwhelming, but we have to remember that whatever we can afford to share — even if it doesn’t seem like much — can have an enormous impact.


Airline Ambassadors
Years ago I took an American Airlines flight from New York to San Francisco; I was flying with my dog, and as soon as we landed I took her out of the case she’d been in for hours. One of the flight attendants saw her and started a conversation, and we chatted all the way from the plane to baggage. She told me about a little non-profit she’d started; I thought it sounded interesting, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. What I didn’t know at the time was what a rock star Nancy Rivard is, or that what “began as a network of airline employees using their pass privileges to help others” [would expand into] “a network of students, medical professionals, families and retirees who volunteer . . . [to] escort children in need, hand-deliver humanitarian aid to orphanages, clinics, and remote communities, raise public awareness and involve youth in humanitarian efforts around the world.”

BEADS for Education
Sponsor a Kenyan girl’s education (I’ve been doing it for several years and have had the pleasure and privilege of exchanging letters and gifts with Lillian, and getting to know her as she’s growing up), or simply shop for gorgeous beaded handicrafts (scroll to the bottom of the site and click on “Products”) made by the Dupoto Women’s Group, many of whose members are mothers of the students; profits go back to the women and are a primary source of income.

Center for Constitutional Rights
The CCR “is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” From attacks on dissent to racial, gender and economic justice they get things done. I don’t know where we’d be without CRC.

Donors Choose
Well, I thought this was low-profile, but the website says it’s one of Oprah’s Favorite Things this year. Still, in case, like me, you missed Oprah’s endorsement, I’m including it. Teachers all over the country post projects for which they need to raise money; you choose the project you want to support and make a donation of any amount. I found a classroom in North Carolina that needed music theory books for singers. You can choose a recipient classroom based on geographical location or school subject; you can look for the projects where the need is most urgent, that benefit military children, or that meet any number of other considerations.

ECPATUSA
ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) works to protect the right of all children to grow up free from sexual exploitation. What more is there to say? Except that donations made between now and January 5 receive a free gift.

The Jazz Foundation
You might be surprised to know that a lot of gigs pay no more today than they paid fifty years ago (I’m talking about actual, not inflation-adjusted, dollars). I find myself wondering how the musicians who were around then, who could make a good living with that kind of money, are managing now, when they’re older and may have to deal with health problems and certainly have to deal with inflation. JFA Emergency Fund helps jazz professionals (especially older musicians, who may have no health insurance, pensions, or retirement funds) through hard times.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
“As part of a broader social justice movement,” the NGLTF works “to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all.” See, here’s the thing: even if sexuality that doesn’t conform to that of the majority makes you uncomfortable, your discomfort doesn’t justify the curtailing or abridgement of civil rights.

Pathfinder International
“Since 1957, Pathfinder International has maintained an unwavering belief in the right of women and families to have access to contraception and to quality reproductive health care.” Pathfinder knows that good maternal and reproductive health care isn’t just about individuals and families; it’s necessary for the overall health, strength, and economic growth of entire communities.

Planting Peace
Planting Peace has “a variety of projects ranging from large-scale international efforts to grassroots initiatives.” A donation of $5 allows them to deworm 333 children; they’ve already reached 7.9 million children in Haiti alone. Deworming may sound like a small thing, but it can have an enormous impact on a child’s education, health, and quality of life.

Polaris Project
One of the largest anti-trafficking organizations working against sexual slavery and forced labor, “Polaris Project’s vision is for a world without slavery.”

Potters for Peace
One of the things I love about Potters for Peace and Planting Peace (above) is that they’re great examples of relatively small, very achievable solutions to enormous problems. To me, that’s the definition of miracle. “Since 1998 Potters for Peace has traveled the world teaching the fabrication of a low-cost ceramic water filter that can bring clean, potable water to those who need it most.”

Project Vote Smart
I’ve blogged about this before and I’m including it here because I’m such a believer in this valuable resource for U.S. voters. Project Vote Smart provides comprehensive, unbiased, non-partisan information about the political process, elected officials, candidates, etc.

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