A Midwestern farmer named Dan West was ladling out rations of milk to hungry children during the Spanish Civil War when it hit him.
"These children don't need a cup, they need a cow."
West, who was serving as a Church of the Brethren relief worker, was forced to decide who would receive the limited rations and who wouldn't -- literally, who would live and who would die. This kind of aid, he knew, would never be enough.
So West returned home to form Heifers for Relief, dedicated to ending hunger permanently by providing families with livestock and training so that they "could be spared the indignity of depending on others to feed their children."
In 1944, the first shipment of 17 heifers left York, Pennsylvania, for Puerto Rico, going to families whose malnourished children had never even tasted milk. Learn about the cowboys who brought cows and kids together.
Why heifers? These are young cows that haven't yet given birth -- making them perfect not only for supplying a continued source of milk, but also for supplying a continued source of support. That's because each family receiving a heifer agrees to "pass on the gift" and donate the female offspring to another family, so that the gift of food is never-ending.
This simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief caught on and has continued for almost 60 years. As a result, millions of families in 115 countries are experiencing better health, more income, and the joy of helping others.
The second is new to me and also very innovative -- Kiva: loans that change lives.
Kiva allows you or those on your gift list to become microcredit financiers [in the spirit of the Grameen Bank and Mohammed Yunus' work] by giving small loans to hard-working but poor people who want to get ahead. The microcredit system has a 97% repayment rate, so chances are you'll get your money back to loan out again. From their FAQ:
We let you loan to the working poor.
Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on Kiva.org, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence.
Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you've sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back.
We partner with organizations all over the world
Kiva partners with existing microfinance institutions. In doing so, we gain access to outstanding entrepreneurs from impoverished communities world-wide. Our partners are experts in choosing qualified borrowers. That said, they are usually short on funds. Through Kiva.org, our partners upload their borrower profiles directly to the site so you can lend to them.
Maybe next year we'll just do a few little things for family and friends (because presents are fun if they're not overdone) plus a card that ‘a gift of honeybees has been donated in your name.' [In order for it to work, though, we might need to get a teeny tiny tree so a few presents will look good; those old expectations do die hard...] Avoid Mall-hell. Avoid UPS stores. Toss the catalogs straight in the trash. I can then spend Christmas enjoyably, blissfully, stress-free with my family, my cheese, my chocolate, my tree, and my Christmas music.
Not Ophelia blogs at Feminist Mormon Housewives, where this originally appeared.