Giving as a good work

We’re all familiar with the following holiday gifting syndrome. Where you buy a gift for a friend, relative or loved one that causes plenty of excitement, goodness and fun when it’s new, and then, a month or two or six down the road, that gift inevitably gets stashed away in a closet or garage to enter the predictable next phase of its existence—as a crucially important support beam for a spider’s webby new home.

At this stage in life, I still want to play the Christmas game. I’m not grinching out just yet (although I really am up to here with the onmipresent effing Xmas music). But I do want a bit more bang for my gifting buck, and I don’t want to have to wait in some glacial godawful line in Costco to get it. I want my holiday gifts to now make more of a difference in someone’s life other than just a few moments of fleeting fun and pleasure. I know, I know—ever the naive romantic.

But there are numerous charities that can bring some real impact with priceless gifts that are reasonably priced. That’s a great concept. Of course, these gifts are bestowed on people you will never know. So there’s that. Here are two of my faves …

The Smile Train is an awesome organization. Maybe you’ve seen their dramatic ads in magazines, which feature often shocking photos of kids in third world countries with faces marred by horrible hare lips. The Smile Train has 2,600 doctors around the globe, tidying up disastrous cleft palates in 70 countries. By donating to Smile Train, you’re basically giving some kid in Zambia or Paraguay a new face for Christmas. In the overall scheme of things, that’s a pretty nice gift. You could do a lot worse. One operation costs $250. If that’s a little steep, they’re happy to take whatever you’d like to send. No donation too small, no donation too large.

Heifer International also does terrific work in the third world. Their schtick is giving useful animals to families that could really, really use them. Heifer offers a totally affordable list of creatures for sale, including a flock of chicks for $20, chicks that will grow up to be prized egg-layers. A beehive costs $30; a pig, goat, or sheep $120; a llama $150; and a big ole water buffalo $250. Again, the point here is life-changing positivity for a family you’ll never meet but who will truly be supremely grateful if you give them a cow.

You make the donation in the name of whomever you want, and the card you get back describing the destiny of your money never fails to remind you and your giftee that it’s kinda cool you have food in your fridge, a nice bed in the back, and hot air coming out of that vent. No, it’s not glamorous or sexy. But it’s righteous and humbling, which just might be the point.