National Opinions

Forget trinkets; these gifts can change lives

Cases of asthma have spiked in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria.
Cases of asthma have spiked in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria. AP Photo

’Tis the season when we inflict on one another neckties and perfumes that no one really wants, plus more than $1 billion in gift cards that are never even redeemed. Hence my annual column with suggestions for “gifts with meaning” that are warmer than any scarf. If you insist on a gift certificate, how about one for GlobalGiving? The recipient can support a tribal child in India in school for a year, or street children in Ecuador, or LGBT rights in central Africa.

Or here are some other options:

▪ Help overlooked Puerto Ricans. It has been more than a year since Hurricane Maria pounded Puerto Rico, yet many families are still struggling and President Donald Trump is talking about ending aid efforts. So consider supporting hurricane victims through the Puerto Rico Funders Network.

▪ Give kids better brains. When there isn’t enough iodine in the food supply (or, for a fetus, in the mom’s body), children’s brains often don’t develop properly. Iodine deficiency also causes goiters, but the biggest impact is mental disability.This is easily solved by adding iodine to salt, for pennies per child per year. You can thus build brains by donating to the Iodine Global Network through GiveWell, which analyzes the most cost-effective ways to help people.

▪ Help refugee children. This is the year that the United States tore immigrant children from parents at the border, so consider supporting an organization like RAICES or Covenant House. RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, provides legal help for these children, while Covenant House operates shelters in the U.S. and abroad for desperate migrant kids and others in need.

▪ Fight suicide and mental illness. I was saddened this year when the son of some dear family friends committed suicide. Suicide rates are now at a 30-year high in America. The Jed Foundation works with colleges and high schools to build programs for mental health, so that young people get the help they need.

▪ Help Native Americans get through college. American Indians have a high school graduation rate at Bureau of Indian Education schools of just 53 percent. Only 16 percent have a college degree. So consider the American Indian College Fund, which supports students not only with scholarships but also with mentoring and advice on getting financial aid.

▪ Help a child read. If writing a check feels too easy, yoy might volunteer with Reading Partners, working one-on-one with an elementary school child who is behind in reading.

▪ Save lives. Women’s health programs are taking a beating in this administration, with funding cuts that will result in less family planning and more deaths in childbirth (a woman dies every two minutes somewhere in the world from pregnancy-related causes). So consider PATH, a nonprofit that comes up with nifty solutions to problems of the developing world. The most common cause of maternal death is hemorrhage. So PATH developed a simple device called a uterine balloon tamponade that even a remote clinic can use to save some of these lives. It’s made from rubber tubing and a balloon or condom that fills with water to press on the uterus and reduce bleeding.

My point is that gift-giving can be exciting, even lifesaving. Happy holidays!