Wouldn't it be great to turn Thanksgiving Dinner and "Black Friday" turbo-shopping into something useful for Americans and others in need? Maybe just skipping one Thanksgiving dish or cutting down on the number of bottles of wine consumed this Thursday would save enough to make a meaningful gift to a child in need. Maybe buying one less toy, one less necktie, one less sweater or skipping a generation of electronic equipment upgrades could help a family living at the margins.
Here are some suggestions about what you and yours might do with $100 or $1000 saved from unnecessary consumption this Holiday Season. I'll use the international and domestic relief group Operation USA as my example but you can also use your favorite charity if you know its track record.
1. Operation USA supports The Awesome Girls program in New Orleans which provides after school services to at-risk teenage girls at a cost of about $200 per enrolled girl per year. So many communities across the USA have seen school and social services programs drastically cut-back as local and state governments retrench from falling tax revenues. Having worked in Hurricane Katrina relief, Operation USA found that The Awesome Girls was one of the "best of the best" and merits your support. It should be replicated in every community for both boys and girls.
2. With 50 million Americans not having health insurance, community nonprofit health clinics and social services programs are being inundated. Here, too, government funds are increasingly scarce and clinics are chronically short of the medical supplies they need to provide safety net and preventative care to families in need. Just $25 pays for shipping a 30-40 lb box of donated supplies to one of hundreds of community clinics.
3. With Haiti under seige from cholera -- 1100 plus dead, 19,000 plus hospitalized as of November 19 -- water purification issues have been brought into focus like never before. While developing safe, sustainable water systems is the ultimate goal, emergency deliveries of water purification tablets are often the only option in the immediate aftermath of a sudden major natural disaster or in combatting an unfolding disaster like the spread of cholera. $125 buys 10,000 water purification tablets, including air shipment and delivery. Think of the many lives this simple measure can save in Haiti, Pakistan and elsewhere. Ten thousand tablets should be enough to purify 7,000 gallons of water -- or about the cost of the average family's Thanksgiving meal!!
4. Tens of millions of women in rural communities throughout the world have benefited from "microloans" to start up small enterprises in farming, food preparation, animal husbandry, handicrafts and much more. These loans can be $50, $100, $200 and up. In most cases -- well over 90 percent -- of these loans are repaid with interest to a local nonprofit micro-credit lender or village level "bank" and then re-lent to the next person wanting to launch a small enterprise. The results have been dramatic -- school fees are now affordable; health care is more accessible; and, an escape from subsistence living is provided. Your Turkey will taste much better when an equal amount in cash is set aside for a small loan.
5. In many parts of the world there is a deficiency of Vitamin A in children's diets. In many cases, this can lead to Xeropthalmia, causing childhood blindness, or at the very least a drastically increased lack of resistence when malaria or other tropical diseases strike. A breathtakingly simple and inexpensive cure is taking Vitamin A capsules -- just two capsules six months apart and a 5- to 8-year-old child will store enough Vitamin A to prevent Xeropthalmia. A bottle of 1000 -- enough to protect 500 kids -- is just $45... the cost of your turkey, gravy and stuffing.
6. Educating a young child can cost anywhere from $25 to$150 per year in most countries. Free education is rarely free. In most countries, school fees, uniforms, supplies, food and transportation are required expenditures. Another $10,000 to $40,000 is required (of the community) for its own two to three room school house with running or well water, latrines and a small kitchen. While Oprah spent $40 million on one school in South Africa and Madonna is spending $15 million in Malawi, your family can spend atiny fraction of that and focus on improving the life of just one child at a time. Operation USA can point you in the right direction.
7. If you've locked in Thanksgiving, there's always Christmas, Kwanza and Hanukkah dinners where you and yours can think about setting aside something for others and sharing the joy in so doing. Many companies do this as well. Think of these set-asides not as "alms for the poor" but rather as shrewed investments in our common future.