Never mind those shiny cellphones that give you the world in the palm of your hand. Forget about the technologically advanced game systems that allow you to swing a club with Tiger. And don’t even get me started on having to choose between an iPod and a MP3.

This holiday season I am getting my kids a cow.

Heifer International has occasionally popped up in Christmas conversations over the years since my daughter first heard of it while involved in campus ministry at Fenwick High School. Of course, I pretended to listen with one ear while frantically wrapping oversized gifts, making 1,000-calorie butter cookie cut-outs, and addressing multitudes of cards to be sent out to people I have not seen in years. This year — exhausted, overwhelmed, and financially stressed out — I actually sat down and listened with both ears.

A global nonprofit organization, Heifer International’s mission is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty in a sustainable way by empowering families from around the globe to become self-reliant. Through gifts of livestock, seeds, trees, and extensive training, these people are provided with a multiplying source of food and income. For 65 years, Heifer has abided by the simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief. “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Education is the best form of charitable donation.

So along with the bestselling books and argyle sweaters this year (because, of course, I can’t go “cold turkey”) a little envelope will be tucked in with a gift certificate, telling my son that he bought a “Flock of Hope” for hungry families from the Philippines and Rwanda, and my daughter has purchased a “Heifer” that can produce enough milk to nourish a family, as well as their neighbors, in Tanzania.

When they were young children, I encouraged them to donate toys and piggy-bank money to local organizations such as Hephzibah House, Family Services and Blessed Sacrament, our church’s sister parish. As adults, I want them to think on a larger scale. I want them to realize that there are ways to give gifts that really matter to others and the world around them, gifts that provide real benefit, real hope and a real transformational change. Books and wool scarves and video games are great — don’t get me wrong — but nothing says “Happy Holidays” quite like your very own flock of geese.

Julianne Wood
River Forest

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