The Gift of Giving

When Maisie Howland celebrated the big ten, she wanted to mark it with a bang. A family outing sparked a unique party theme.

"We went to this Feed My Starving Children thing, and on the video it had a birthday. And later I thought that would be a good place to give my birthday. We could like feed other children and we'd be helping a lot," said Maisie.

Maisie invited her friends to help pack food for a charity called Feed My Starving Children. They scooped and sealed mixtures of rice, soy, vegetables and chicken that will be shipped to children in Haiti.

"What's great about this is that it isn't talking. The kids are actually doing something themselves with their own hands," said Heather Howland, Maisie's mom. "They got to see and feel and experience what it's like to help somebody else."

when Laura Michel started planning her thirtieth birthday bash, it seemed only natural for her to add a charitable twist.

"A friend and I ran a half-marathon last year to raise money for a village in Africa. One Christmas, several friends and I pitched in to build a well in Africa. It's just kind of the way we like to do our events is to have a purpose," said Michel.

This time, it's a clothing exchange. Each friend brings clothes and accessories she no longer wears. The other friends shop until they drop. For each item claimed, the women make a donation toward an item in the World Vision gift catalog, which helps fight poverty in 100 countries.

"You might pay for a child to go to school for a year, or you might buy that child's family a goat to help provide a source of milk," said Amber Johnson, World Vision.

Alternative gift-giving is a growing choice for holiday shopping. Heifer International, which supplies livestock to families in third-world countries, raises 40-percent of its total revenue through its holiday gift catalog. Fundraisers help generate even more interest.

"Chicago has an incredible base of supporters of both volunteers and friends, folks that organize events and people that are especially generous, especially during the holidays," said Alyson Sowers, Heifer International.

If you'd prefer to help those closer to home, opportunity is but a click away. Web sites like allow you to choose a local charity and then shop at hundreds of stores. A percentage of your total purchase is then donated to your cause. and offer similar deals.

Still, some say nothing beats the gift of time. Some professionals volunteer at Chicago Public Schools through the Black Star Project's Student Motivator program. Lieutenant Frank Brim says there's nothing greater than giving of oneself.

"A check only goes so far," he said. "I believe that when they see you come out, I think it speaks volumes to what we feel as a community."

Most of these groups offer tax deductions for your donations. So you can reap an extra benefit from your gift-giving. Also, if you want to make sure a charity is legitimate before you give, you can check with the Illinois attorney general's office.

Feed My Starving Children

World Vision

Heifer International

Black Star Project

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