leadhelpinghandsIt’s that time of year again when the lights go up, the sales begin and the shopping begins in earnest. Sure, you could buy that new iPod nano or the latest HDTV for your loved one, but this year, why not make a difference with your giving? Honor your friends and family by helping others in their name.

There are hundreds of alternative gift options, and each community offers something different. But here are just a few gift ideas to get you in the holiday spirit.

Change a Life Forever: Alternative Gifts International

For the price of a necktie (and who wants a necktie anyway?), you can provide medicine and therapy to a child in the Republic of Georgia suffering from cystic fibrosis. Want to help more than one person? Give medicine to 100 impoverished people in Central America for the price of a video game.

Alternative Gifts International (AGI) is a non-profit agency that offers gift givers the opportunity to aid environmental and anti-poverty projects around the globe. AGI works with dozens of globally respected aid agencies worldwide. Each agency agrees to spend 100 percent of donated funds on the humanitarian projects.

These gifts of empowerment truly do make a difference. Donate a water buffalo (for US$ 143) to a farmer in Bolivia, for example, and that farmer can double his harvest and better provide for his family. And that’s just the beginning. You can purchase a solar-powered computer for a school in Honduras or rescue girls from human trafficking in Southeast Asia. Your gift can even build a new home for the poorest people of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

American Harriet Prichard started AGI in 1980 as a simple way to teach children the joys of giving. That effort has grown to touch thousands around the globe. “Last year, we helped to rebuild a school in Baghdad for girls,” says Prichard. “We also sent medicine to Darfur refugees who have fled the genocide in Sudan and are now in camps in Chad. Disease and famine are everyday struggles there.”

These gifts of empowerment can be donated in the name of your loved one. Each gift recipient receives a meaningful card that explains the significance of your gift. The best thing about gifts sent through AGI is that they actually touches three lives, says Prichard. “The donor knows they are doing something that changes the world, the recipient of the gift card is honored and then the recipient of the gift is truly blessed,” she adds.

It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Alternative Gifts International


800-842-2243 (within the U.S.)

Adopt a giant panda through WWF for as little as US$ 25.
Adopt a giant panda through WWF for as little as US$ 25.

Save an Endangered Species: World Wildlife Fund

For those animal lovers in your life, consider helping to save an endangered species in their name. Through World Wildlife Fund (WWF), you can “adopt” a giant panda or a snow leopard for US$ 25. Rather than supporting an individual animal, the symbolic adoption helps support a population of critically endangered species.

Past projects have included helping mountain gorillas make a comeback, promoting commercial fishing gear that will save endangered sea turtles and helping to bring the tamarin, a small South American monkey, back from the brink of extinction.

Gift recipients receive an adoption certificate and desktop computer images of that animal.

World Wildlife Fund



Encourage Someone Far From Home: AdoptaPlatoon

It’s no fun to be away from your family during the holidays, especially if you’re serving in a foreign country far from home. Through AdoptaPlatoon (AAP), gift givers can reach out to a soldier by sending a simple care package or letters of encouragement. The program is available to individuals, as well as schools, civic groups, churches or other organizations, which can adopt an entire platoon.

Letters and care packages are a welcome gift for those in the armed forces. “It’s hard to be away from home,” says Staff Sergeant Kenneth Kindrick, who is serving with the U.S. Air Force in Iraq. “This program is a bright ray of sunlight that gives me hope to make it home. I have enjoyed the letters that talk about the weather and news that is happening in the U.S. And the candies and the different treats that I’ve received have been a little taste of home.”

Other suggested items to send include cookies, dried fruit, instant coffee, dental floss, even insect repellent. To adopt a soldier, families or individuals pledge to send a letter or card to an individual service member on a weekly basis, as well as send a minimum of one care package per month. While it’s not always possible, many service members write back and a friendship may develop.

AAP also provides numerous ways to support the humanitarian efforts of American troops. Operation Crayon supports service members in their efforts to help the children of Afghanistan and Iraq. Operation Afghanistan Aid and Operation Iraqi Aid assist troops as they provide general humanitarian aid in these war torn regions.



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Build a Home: Habitat for Humanity International

With Habitat for Humanity, your time or money can help to provide a home for a low-income family. This international non-profit group is dedicated to eliminating homelessness and substandard housing around the globe. Habitat holds the firm conviction that every man, woman and child deserves a safe place to live.

By offering the work of their own labor, as well as donated funds, Habitat volunteers have provided homes to more than 200,000 families worldwide. You don’t have to be a skilled carpenter to get involved. Everyone can use a hammer.

For those who would like to donate funds, even the smallest gift is put to good use. Just US$ 10 buys a box of nails, while US$ 35 buys roof shingles. Habitat for Humanity has projects in numerous countries, including providing housing for victims of the tsunami in Asia, flood victims in New Orleans and Central America, and victims of the Pakistan earthquake.

Habitat for Humanity




Benjamin Rader
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