Chasing Down The Muse: Give a gift that matters

Gentlemen/women — start your engines!

Shopping engines, that is, for in all sincerity, the holiday rush/crush has begun its roar through December. Before the 12th month could even peek through the calendar, consumers were overwhelmed (I don't say that lightly) with advertisements and teasers for "Black Friday."

The name itself inspires me — not to shop — but to hide under the covers until whatever makes the day black goes away. A quick Google search reveals that the name originated in Philadelphia in 1966 as a way to describe the disruption caused by heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic that occurred on the day after Thanksgiving. The term stayed local until 1975, when retailers, hungry for a gimmick, adopted the name. An alternative explanation evolved at the same time (out of embarrassment?), that the day was one in which retailers turned a profit, or were "in the black."

Following Black Friday, the weekend presses toward Cyber Monday. For those of you not already drenched in holiday gift purchasing, the week that follows Thanksgiving is devoted to sales and discounts in the stores of online merchandisers.

The "Cyber Monday" term made its debut in 2005, as a clever campaign by a website named Shop.org/BizRate. The campaign drove online sales up 77% that year. Following its success, CyberMonday.com was born — a one-stop portal for all online deals. In 2009, consumers spent $887 million online on Cyber Monday, the second highest spending day of the year.

No one needs to remind us that we are a consumer driven society, and that to pull ourselves out of financial muck, we must fuel the gross national product. So we face the crush of other shoppers, doing our part to buy-buy-buy whether or not the gift is needed, or even wanted.

I'm not Grinch. Far from that. I have a sense that the true spirit of Christmas is far from the parking lots of glitter-laden malls. It's in the hearts of one another. In the care that we give and share. In the time we take to acknowledge our strengths, our weaknesses and our commonalities. The spirit is, yes, one of giving, but of giving ourselves, not another pile of soon-to-be-cast-a-way things.

As I have for years, I have an alternative idea. Instead of giving to those who have no need, give to those who do. Send gifts to your favorite charity organizations in the names of those you love. It's a kind of give-give program that enriches lives on many levels.

My favorite continues to be an organization known as Heifer International. Heifer's vision is "… a world of communities living together and equitably sharing the resources of a healthy planet." Its mission is to work with communities to end hunger and care for the earth.

Their strategy works on multiple levels. The giver (you and I) gifts an animal or animals, such as a pig, water buffalo, flock of geese, bees, or chickens to a family in need. Within the parameters of the "Pass on the Gift" program, the recipient of the gift is then expected to share the largess, whether it is in eggs or milk, or offspring, or the sharing of knowledge and skills.

The program works to expand a network of hope, dignity, and self-reliance that reaches around the globe. 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.

To find out more about how you can be involved, visit their website: http://www.heifer.org/ or phone their Donor Services at (800) 422-0474. They can also be reached via mail at Heifer International, PO BOX 8058, Little Rock, AR 72203

If you have a desire give to those in need, but keep your dollars closer to home, there are several local charities that can always use your help. In no particular order:

The Friendship Shelter: http://www.friendshipshelter.org

The Boys & Girls Club: http://www.bgclaguna.org

Assistance League of Laguna Beach: http://www.lagunabeach.assistanceleague.org

Community Referral Services of CSP: http://www.cspinc.org

Meals on Wheels: mealsonwheelswest.org/

Sally's Fund: (949-499-4100)

Rescuing Unwanted Furry Friends – RUFF: http://www.rescue.org

SchoolPower: http://www.lbschoolpower.org

The Laguna Ocean Foundation: http://www.lagunaoceanfoundation.org

American Cancer Foundation: http://www.cancer.org

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation: http://www.komen.org

American Heart Assn.: http://www.americanheart.org

For the holidays, I plan to spend as much time with my friends as possible, letting them know how much they have meant and still mean to me in my journey through life. May your holiday season be filled with laughter and the true spirit of giving.

Catharine Cooper is still hungry to learn and do more. She can be reached via http://bajadreaming.wordpress.com or email catharinecooper@mac.com.

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