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Gifts that Keep on Giving


By Catharine Cooper

‘Tis the season of giving … you can feel it in the air.

Storefronts are festooned with glittering lights and enticing goodies.  Holiday parties vie for weekend rights.  Front doors are decorated in pine-fragrant wreathes, and brightly wrapped gifts are stashed under ornament-laden trees.  The scents of hot apple cider and freshly baked cookies blend with the lyricism of Christmas carols.


We’ve made our lists and we’re checking them twice.  Kids are number one, followed by extended family members, friends, co-workers … and those who have much greater needs, both local and far.


This year, charitable organizations need help more than ever.  The New York Times reported in early August that nonprofit groups were struggling in the face of curtailed giving by big banks and large corporations who were “ clutching their cash or rethinking their giving strategy to maximize their dollars.”   Donations had been slashed by 20 percent or more.


My two favorite charities – Heifer International and the Friendship Shelter – share similar methodologies of utilizing donations.  Their programs are focused on giving individuals and families a hand-up, not just a handout, and a chance to turn their lives into self-reliance and hope.


Heifer’s primary mission is to end poverty and hunger.  “Passing on the Gift” is a cornerstone of their program to create an ever-expanding network of hope and peace.  Donors can choose from gifts of a cow, water buffalo, a flock of geese or chickens – even rabbits and trees.


The gifts of livestock and agriculture come with training, and in this way they help families improve both their nutrition and generate income in sustainable ways.  They refer to the animals as “living loans” because for the gift, families agree to give one of its animal’s offspring to another family in need. The idea of giving a source of food rather than short-term relief now has a 65-year history and today helps millions of families in 128 countries.  Gifts can be made in the name of a friend or family member, and a card will be sent to them acknowledging the gift. What a great opportunity for a child to give an animal gift to a family in need.


Contact for Heifer International or phone their Donor Services at (800) 422-0474.


In our own neighborhood, The Friendship Shelter helps homeless adults achieve self-sufficiency and become more productive members of our community. Their 60-day program in Laguna Beach provides a home, three meals daily and a wide range of support services for 32 men and women. There is always a waiting list.  Residents are expected to work, save money and develop skills to rebuild their lives.


Their comprehensive program provides includes individualized case management, counseling, access to therapists and a licensed psychiatrist, life skills training, recovery meetings, budget and credit counseling, job readiness and employment placement, housing and specialized services for individuals with mental health disabilities, through a contract with the County of Orange.


Graduates may apply to Henderson House Transitional Living apartments located in San Clemente, where 24 residents live for up to one year, allowing them to consolidate their gains and continue on the path to fully productive lives.  Since its inception, more than 6,000 adults have been the recipients of vital services.


Friendship Shelter  phone (949) 494-6928.  Friendship shelter also accepts gifts in kind.  A wish list of needs can be found on their website.


Other local charities that can always use your help (in no particular order):


The Boys & Girls Club

Assistance League of Laguna Beach

Community Referral Services of CSP

Meals on Wheels

Sally’s Fund (949-499-4100)

Rescuing Unwanted Furry Friends – RUFF


The Laguna Ocean Foundation

American Cancer Foundation

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation 

American Heart Association


May your holiday season be filled with laughter and the true spirit of giving.  Isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?



Catharine Cooper continues to adventure with the world.  She can be reached via : http://bajadreaming.wordpress.com/ or email  [email protected]



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  1. Sue Knuth

    Hi Catherine! I LOVE Heifer International! Our local social knitting group of “crazies” always does a “multi-dimentional” gift. We so appreciate choosing the items and of course, always include a “knitting basket.” Knowing these gifts will help families long term is truly the gift that keeps on giving both for the recipients and for us (who are so fortunate to be able to share), knowing generosity stems from the heart as well as the pocketbook.
    Thanks for the reminders,
    Happiest of holidays and much love,

  2. Catharine

    So glad to be the reminder, Sue. This year, it was a pig, a “Wild Woman,” a flock of geese, and a bundle of bunnies. Does make the heart feel broader, doesn’t it?


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