(NUI) - My family celebrates, in a major way, any chance we get. So the holidays are a favorite time of year for us, bringing excitement and anticipation, but also the stress that comes with these hectic days.
One way I have found to connect with the values and spirit of the season is "alternative giving," making a donation to a worthy cause in the name of a friend or loved one.
Five years ago, I found myself in a particularly crazed December. Gift shopping, traveling to promote a movie, finding the perfect Christmas tree and Tim's favorite holiday tradition, building a winter wonderland mini-village that encircles the apartment - for the kids, of course.
I was quickly turning into the Grinch. At the height of my holiday angst, I received a card from a friend informing me that a cow had been purchased in my honor to help a needy family. My first reaction was "Why in the world?" As I read on, I was moved and impressed.
The friend had purchased this special gift from Heifer International, a world hunger organization that allows you to buy livestock - llamas, chicks, sheep and cows - for impoverished families around the globe. When Jenna and Liam, my kids in "Stepmom," heard about Heifer they organized the cast and crew to exchange animals for Christmas. Not only does it make a unique and unforgettable present, it is one that does a world of good.
Heifer International has an effective, sustainable solution to end hunger and poverty. A single cow or flock of chicks does wonders for a struggling family, providing a steady supply of milk and eggs for food and income.
What I particularly love about Heifer is that aid recipients first receive training in caring for their animals and for the environment, then they pass on their gift animal's first offspring and training to neighbors in need. The resulting ripple effect can lift an entire community out of poverty. With projects in 47 countries, including the United States, Heifer has helped more than 4 million families find a sustainable way of life.
The gift is an eye-opener; its mixture of whimsy, ingenuity and hope is a mood-lifter. My kids love picking out the animals to give. It recovered for me the true spirit of the holiday season.
Heifer's holiday catalog, available at www.heifer.org or at 1-800-696-1918, offers a wide array of gifts and prices, so you can find something for everyone on your list. So instead of having a cow this holiday season, why not give one?
Susan Sarandon is a mother, an academy award winning actress, a producer and an activist.
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