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Finished shopping yet?

Tired of getting too much stuff for the holidays? So is the Rev. Duane Anders.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BALTIMORE | December 9, 2006

Tired of getting too much stuff for the holidays? So is the Rev. Duane Anders.

"You can only put so many things on your shelf or your wall before you get to the point when you say, 'I don't need anything,'" said Anders, pastor of Stillwater United Methodist Church in Dayton, Ohio.

And that's why Anders encourages his church, family and friends to consider alternative gift giving every year. "For a lot of us who are middle class Americans, it's one way to remind us that Christmas is not about us, it's about God taking care of all people," he explained.

Anders points to agencies with alternative gift giving guides, such as the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and Church World Service (CWS). Utilizing agency catalogs such as UMCOR's and CWS' allow the public to purchase items such as blankets, health kits, livestock and more for families in need in the U.S. and around the world.

"I've presented these things to the church. I say if you don't need anything but people still want to get you something, give them this option to make a difference," said Anders.

"I think that's the challenge around alternative giving - if you're willing to do this then you have to tell people how to do it. Some people have never done it before so you have to point them in the right direction."

He understands that there are times in people's lives when one does have needs and holiday gifts help out, but there are plenty of other times when that is not the case. "Let's not just 'not give,' giving is part of Christmas. But how can we give in ways to help all people?"

The Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's executive secretary for U.S. disaster response, agreed with Anders. "At Christmastime, people seem to gravitate to the mall searching for the perfect gift. Giving an alternative gift - something that helps make someone's life better - is a great way to honor your loved ones. It turns gift-giving from an act of consumerism into an act of faith."

UMCOR's 2006 Christmas Wish List includes items the agency can utilize to help people in need. For example, a donation of $37 helps run the UMCOR Cheese Distribution Program - which helps "about 10,000 Armenians living in 73 institutions such as orphanages, special schools, retirement centers and mental hospitals receive nutrient-rich cheese that improves their prospects for good health."

Or with a $25 donation, UMCOR is helped in covering shipping costs for the many health, school and relief kits the agency distributes.

Looking for something bigger? How about a generator?

UMCOR's Sager Brown Depot is in great need of generators to support disaster recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast and in future disasters. "We had 20 prior to Hurricane Katrina, but now they're all being used (to power rebuilding tools and sites) or they're gone," said Charles Maddox, Sager Brown's director. "We might get some back, but they won't be in good shape after all they've been used for now."

Maddox said they're aiming to get 20 generators back in stock, which is extremely pricey considering they can cost anywhere from $500 to $800. And so he and UMCOR issued an appeal in November and as a part of the UMCOR Christmas Wish List: Help us get generators.

Most faith-based disaster response agencies have holiday gift guides. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance's 2006 guide includes items such as a donation to buy more housing "pods" to shelter volunteers doing disaster rebuild work, and a donation of a HazMat kit which helps protect volunteers working in environmentally risky disaster cleanups. The guide also includes several international disaster response donations as well, covering countries like Lebanon and Indonesia.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) holiday guide has its options categorized by health, agricultural, animals, literacy and disaster response. One can donate a hive of bees to a family in Kenya, a nutrition kit in the Honduras, a blackboard and chalk in Tanzania, or a tool kit to disaster responders in North America.

Sue Edison-Swift of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America once got a goat for Christmas, one of the most popular alternative gifts listed in many of the agency guides. Edison, director for ELCA's development communication (hunger/disaster), said she knows why goats continue to be such popular gifts to give in honor of friends and family members.

"They have a great price point, they're $25 in our catalog," she explained. "The other thing is the story about them. Goats are the poor person's cow, really, especially in countries experiencing drought. They eat everything; they can survive without a lot of water and care. In families where the parents are ill with HIV/AIDS, the children are responsible for so much work - and children can take care of goats."

Edison-Swift said from there, the goats are connected to a much bigger picture. "It's never just a goat. It's an animal project connected with a micro-credit-loan program for women's empowerment, which is connected with agricultural reform which is connected to water improvement. It's just all integrated, and it's one of the things we do best."

ELCA's 2006 Good Gifts catalog also includes options of $50 to buy a bag of nails for disaster response, $250 to send a child who experienced disaster to a day camp for a week, and much more.

Edison-Swift agreed with Anders and Hazelwood about why alternative gifts are so important. "It's a way of lifting up the mustard seed nature of our ministries - that really such a little can do such good," she said

She added that bigger amounts do great things as well, and sometimes it's not even obvious to the person who donated funds to the agency. "I remember being in Uganda and observing a new water system this community of 6,000 had created with their own labor for themselves. It was their first clean water ever. So for $10,000, this community had clean water. Then a month later I just happened to take in a donation of $10,000 and I thought, 'Wow - where can you transform a whole community for $10,000?' It's amazing. Having the right money in the right place just does amazing things."

But it's not necessary to donate $10,000 to make a difference, and Edison-Swift said even her 9 and 13-year-old niece and nephew made a difference one Christmas.

"Last year I sent them our gift catalog, and they decided instead of giving each other gift cards like usual, they would instead give each other gifts from the catalog. Even kids know that they're getting too much these days. It's just so wonderful to know that when given the option, they would like to share their bounty."

She's not the only one hearing about family members and non-traditional gifts. Anders laughed when recounting what his sister asked for this year. "A crate of chickens."

2006 Holiday Gift Giving Guides

Christian Reformed World Relief Committee

Church of the Brethren (scroll down on page)

Church World Service

Episcopal Relief and Development

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

Heifer International

Mennonite Central Committee

Mennonite Disaster Service

Nechama Jewish Disaster Response

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

United Church of Christ

United Methodist Committee on Relief


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Related Links:

DNN's 2005 Alternative Holiday Gift Story

DNN's 2004 Alternative Holiday Gift Story

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