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Five Ways to Give Back For the Holidays

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When I was a kid, Christmas was a magical time of receiving and giving gifts. But now I'm an adult and half the people I gift don't need anything; so this year, I am gifting those who need a helping hand. Below are five organizations I trust (because I have gifted them all), and you can, too. You'll feel good knowing you're helping someone, plus you can deduct the tax, and in a few cases, you'll receive a beautiful hand-made object.

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Tutwiler Clinic and Tutwiler Quilters
Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation, with the country's highest rate of heart disease and the second-highest rate of diabetes. Tutwiler, the tiny Mississippi Delta town where Sonny Boy Williamson II is buried, is no exception to poverty. When I was in Clarksdale for Blues Harp Jam Camp. I saw Sonny Boy's grave and saw the fine work the clinic is doing If you love the blues, make a contribution in honor of Sonny Boy's fund. Or, help the women of Tutwiler support themselves by buying a brightly colored quilt (or quilted bag, table runner, place-mat or wall hanging), entirely hand-made and shipped immediately. It's a great way of helping the Tutwiler women support themselves and their families, as they receive 80% of the price; the other 20 percent helps buy materials.

Central Park Conservancy
If you live in NYC like me, Central Park is your respite, your oasis, and your full-time gym. So give back. I adopted a bench that includes a custom engraved plaque with my own inscription on Literary Walk. Or, sponsor a children's playground; or an insider's private tour designed by one of the Park's leading experts, Sara Cedar Miller. Why not donate bulbs for the spring daffodils and tulips (includes a certificate); or endow a tree with a granite paving stone and your inscription. Or, send an E-card with a photo of Central Park.

2010-11-29-healingheart2.pngThe Spiral Foundation
"Healing the Wounded Heart Shop," which I discovered in Hue City, Vietnam, is part of The SPIRAL (Spinning Potential into Resources and Love) Foundation. The shop sells handicraft items produced by local young disabled artists, with the proceeds going to fund health care, medical, and educational projects. So far, they've been able to pay for 250 heart surgeries for children of Hue. Choose from colorful baskets woven from recycled telephone wires, stationary with Cham and Hmong pieces of embroidery, and gorgeous bags made from recycled plastic products. Now, the Spiral Foundation www.spiralfoundation.org/events.aspx?page=events is holding a Holiday Bazaar in Pacific Palisades, California so you can shop with your heart to give back. (All net proceeds find medical aid in Vietnam and Nepal).

2010-11-29-Heiffer.pngHeifer International
Heifer International has been around 65 years, and understands that it's better to teach a man to fish so he can feed himself than to give him a fish that will feed him just once. One animal could eventually benefit an entire community." If a family has a cow, there's a glass of rich milk for the children to drink each morning before heading off to school. A good dairy cow can produce four gallons of milk a day -- enough for a family to drink and share with neighbors. Milk protein transforms sick, malnourished children into healthy children. The sale of surplus milk earns money for school fees, medicine, clothing and home improvements. Every gift multiplies, as the animal's first offspring is passed on to another family-then they also agree to pass on an animal, and so on. And because a healthy cow can produce a calf every year, every gift will be passed on and eventually help an entire community move from poverty to self-reliance. Can't afford a whole animal? Give a share. A card will be sent to your friends and family letting them know that you've given the gift of self-reliance to a struggling family.

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Give Back to Veterans
I knew Bob and Lee Woodruff before Bob was seriously injured by a roadside bomb while reporting on U.S. and Iraqi security forces in Iraq, February 2007. Thirteen months after his accident, Woodruff returned to the airwaves with a documentary chronicling his traumatic brain injury (TBI), along with the challenges facing thousands of wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. "The story," says Woodruff, "that is not being told is the story of traumatic brain injury among the troops retuning home. The sheer number of these "walking wounded" is far higher than is being reported. Give here.

Remember, it only takes a second to go to any of these websites and donate. Happy Holidays, and may you help someone who really needs it.