Thanks fer nuthin'

Last holiday season, a friend of mine expressed irritation when her sister purchased livestock from a charity organization for a family in the developing world. The beast in question was given in my friend’s name, as a holiday present from her sister. … To somebody she didn’t know. Follow me?

Now, this complex in-absentia rigmarole would’ve made an ideal gift for yours truly: I enjoy livestock in the abstract far more than I do in person; I worry about those in the developing world, but have never found time to purchase actual critters for them; and I adore receiving credit for acts of goodwill I haven’t performed! I’d dig for somebody to give somebody in Peru a llama from me. Everybody wins — the Peruvian family gets a llama, the llama gets a home (and a … job? I guess?), and I don’t have to feed, groom, or milk anything. Plus, I don’t have to feign delight in, say, an Applebee’s gift certificate, some elastic-waist pants, or a CD of Sarah Brightman.

However, my friend characterized her sister’s charity-gift’s message as: “I get to exercise my self-righteousness at your expense.”

“Your expense? But you didn’t buy anything,” I protested.

“I know,” my friend admitted. “Plus, it’s not like I begrudge the poor … so then on top of being mad, I immediately felt way-guilty.”

My friend’s point (besides having wanted a Wii pretty damn bad): You’re not allowed to feel deprived by a charity gift, even if you want to (especially this year, with the global economy in a hot mess). This dilemma calls to mind the philanthropy scam of ’97-era Seinfeld, in which George Costanza conjures up a bogus charity called “The Human Fund” (the tagline for which was “Money for People”) and gives out cards notifying his friends that he’s made a donation in their name, knowing that nobody could possibly object (until, of course, he’s totally and inevitably busted.).

Now faux-charities, I grant you, suck. I’d be legitimately pissed if this llama given on my behalf turned out to be, say, entirely conceptual; there damn well better be a real llama somewhere with my name … well, associated with it. Which brings up an important point: If you do give charitable gifts this season, make sure to check the charity out with, a searchable database of over 1.2 million IRS-recognized non-profits.

It didn’t help that my fiend’s sister had selected, as the animal-gift-by-proxy for her, a pig. I don’t think my friend took it kindly, somehow. If it’s the thought that counts, then, “this is what you bring to mind, loved one: a pig somewhere in Haiti” does seem a mite hurtful. One way to up the potential fun aspect of charity giving and receiving is to pick the right gift for the intended recipient. Perhaps my friend would have preferred to have been represented by a hive of honeybees, some midwife training, or funds put toward ending human trafficking. There’s even a
gift-certificate charity,, through which you can buy your ungrateful friends a dollar-amount card, and then they pick which charity to spend it on.

Another way to render charitable giving more festive is to embark on a charity “war” with friends and family: see your sister’s pig, and raise her two bunnies and a share in a Tibetan yak! Does your obnoxious Fundamentalist co-worker evangelize or otherwise irritate you? Retaliate with a donation on his or her behalf to the Southern Poverty Law Center (, the ACLU (, or Human Rights Campaign ( Or send a pig somewhere, and make sure she knows it was from her.

Spend or thrifty charity gifties?

Heifer Project International
$30 Bees!
$50 “Hope basket” with rabbits and chickens
$60 “Earth basket” with bees and tree seedlings
$120 goat
$150 llama
$500 heifer

Alternative Gifts International

$1One meal for a child on the street (Kenya)
$4 Support a child for one day (Kenya)
$17Training in life-saving care for one infant (Romania)
$20 Necessary supplies for one sterile home delivery (Sub-Saharan Africa, Haiti)
$24 One share of a yak (Tibet)
$25 One hen that feeds two children through the school year (Bolivia)
$48 Training for two birth attendants and two ‘Safe Motherhood Kits’ (Sub-Saharan Africa, Haiti)
$55 One share of materials to build a solar powered heating system for a Native American family (USA)
$125 One Creole pig (Haiti)
$550 Investigation and documentation to rescue one bonded slave (India)

Mercy Kits
$25 Children’s food kit
$80 Women’s Health Kit
$100 HIV/AIDS Awareness Kit
Elf Louise was founded in 1969 by a Trinity student to distribute toys and gifts to area disadvantaged kids. They accept donations of money, toys, and time — call (210) 224-1843 for more info.
Program office is open 11/22-12/23.

Oh, and yes, Virginia, there really is a Human Fund — it’s a perfectly legit, Cleveland-based non-profit that “supports arts education programs for the under-served youth of the city” ( And I’ll just bet they take donations.

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