Make a lasting difference with your dollars this shopping season

by Karen L. Willoughby, |

COLFAX, La. (Christian Examiner) – Retailers say Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year, and a number of Christian charities are asking consumers to make every dollar count.

Gallup, a research-based global consulting company that tracks public opinions and trends, released an initial estimate that Americans will spend an average of almost $800 on gifts for others, pointing to a strong holiday shopping season. Faith-based organizations are hoping shoppers will use their generosity to give gifts "that give back."

World Vision asks shoppers to consider using their Christmas kindness to "honor someone special with a life-changing gift." The humanitarian aid ministry offers a gift catalog with more than 100 choices that include jewelry and other specialties from around the world crafted by artisans who are being lifted out of poverty with a purchase. They also offer multiple ways to donate in someone else's name to provide: goats to families, new baby kits to mothers in remote villages, school supplies to students in the U.S. and abroad, job training, education and many other opportunities to help others while honoring someone on your Christmas list.

Samaritan's Purse has a catalog of 42 gift ideas. Franklin Graham – son of Billy Graham – heads this Christian non-profit, which mission is "to follow the example of Christ by helping those in need and proclaiming the hope of the Gospel." The charity does not offer items that can be placed under the Christmas tree, but presents good choices to make a difference in a loved one's name.

One of its gift suggestions is to support a missionary doctor like Kent Brantly, who made world news first by being infected with the Ebola virus and then surviving after being flown back to the United States. He helped other patients recover by donating blood containing antibodies when no more doses of experimental drugs were available.

"As Dr. Brantly was fighting for his life, 23 more young doctors and their families took their own step of faith and began two-year assignments overseas in the same program," according to the Samaritan Purse website. The charity asks others to consider making a gift to its medical arm, the World Medical Mission, to help "raise up a new generation of medical missionaries." It offers gift-givers to contribute $4,200 a month or $7 per patient to provide urgent care in places where medical services are scant.

A $10 gift provides a stuffed animal toy for five children. Ruth Bell Graham, wife of Billy and mother of Franklin (who heads the organization) came up with the idea that a toy lamb would provide youngsters with "a comforting reminder of the Lamb of God and His love." For $9, a gift giver can feed a baby or its nursing mother for a week.

Other options run the gamut of building a mission hospital and outfitting it to housing and teaching orphans. Samaritan's Purse hopes Americans see that food, medicine, shelter and clean water are life-giving gifts that will never go out of style, become garage bargains, or lose value.

Baptist Global Response is a non-profit relief and development organization with a global scope that "connects people in need with people who care." Their web catalog lists alternatives to ties, electric razors, cashmere sweaters and electronics this Christmas.

A gift of $5 per day "will keep a girl fed, healthy and full of hope," as little as $1 buys a liter of water and food for a day, and $20 supplies a newborn with infant formula for a month.

Folks should understand that a $10 blanket "makes a difference to a child living in a tent," the BGR says.

"A litte girl, Malaya, fled her home with her parents. The family was forced to leave everything behind, including food and warm clothes. When they reached a safe area, BGR provided them a family emergency kit containing a tent, food and water. And, Malaya received a blanket to keep her cozy at night. She took it everywhere. The blanket made her feel safe and warm, and it protected her as the cold winter months arrived."

A family emergency kit costs $150.

BGR hopes people of faith will see that seeds, chickens, and sewing machines to start a business all are presents which will make an impact well beyond the holiday.

Gallup says its 2014 estimate of $781 is on par with the $786 announced for 2013. However, the amount is still well below $909 average for 2007. The low during this economic stretch was $711 in 2012.