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All I Want for Christmas Is a Cow

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It's now mid-December, and if you're like most people I know, you're still scrambling to finish your holiday shopping. We are all looking for gifts that are just the right combination of unique, meaningful, "green," stylish, thoughtful and quirky -- that special item that says to your friend, colleague or loved one that you really get them. Allow me to make an unlikely suggestion that might just fit the bill:

A camel. Or a pig. Maybe a flock of chicks or a llama? Or what the heck, buy an entire ark!

Since 1944, Heifer International has helped over 12.5 million families -- 64 million men, women, boys and girls -- achieve better nutrition, higher incomes and greater self-reliance through gifts of farm animals and training. Families receive a goat or chickens, for instance, that provide milk and eggs they can eat or sell for additional income to pay for school, medicine, housing and more to help them build a better life. Water buffalo plow fields, llamas take surplus products to market... you get the idea -- teach a woman to fish!

Heifer's approach to ending world hunger is advanced. Communities are trained in sustainable agriculture and animal care, environmentally appropriate animals are locally sourced, and women are proactively included and empowered by the process. There is a reason these programs are supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and so many others who are serious about making a lasting difference in the world. Heifer offers a comprehensive and proven solution to hunger and poverty.

Their approach is based on the principle of passing on the gift. Every family who receives a gift from Heifer agrees to pass on the training they have received to another needy family, along with the offspring when their own animal gives birth. Every recipient becomes a donor, and the individual gifts multiply -- in the literal, biblical sense -- increasing prosperity for the entire community. It is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

So how does all this translate into the perfect holiday gift? Visit Heifer's online catalog, and you can buy a farm animal for a needy family in honor of someone on your gift list. Choose from a flock of chicks ($20), a goat ($120) or cow ($500), or almost any other farm animal. They even have bees ($30) and trees ($60) for the vegetarians you know. Your gift recipients will receive fun cards that explain the importance of their honorary gift, or you can go paperless with an e-card sent directly from Heifer's Web site -- also a good option if time is of the essence.

Heifer honor cards are also charming gift toppers. Give a flock of chicks with a chic down pillow, or a pig with a vintage piggy bank. One of the things I love most about Heifer is that the gifts are fun, even funny to give and receive. That might seem strange to say about an organization dealing with global hunger and poverty, but Heifer is different. Their gifts bring joy and hope to families, allowing them to imagine a brighter future.

Heifer works in over 60 countries around the world, but its international headquarters are in my hometown, Little Rock, Arkansas. That's how I first heard about them. For over ten years, my family and I have made picking out animals from Heifer's gift catalog a holiday tradition, and recently my daughter Lilly and I started Nell's Compass Candles, which donates proceeds from every candle directly to Heifer International. Our candles are soy based with lead-free wicks and are housed in beautiful colored recycled glass. They make wonderful stocking stuffers and host/hostess gifts while still contributing to a beautiful organization.

I hope you'll join us by making Heifer a part of your own holiday tradition. Give a goat. Share a sheep. Surprise your loved ones by sharing their holiday gift with someone else this year -- a gift of happiness and prosperity for someone who truly needs it.