Books, clothes, and tools make it onto our gift lists every year. Whether your list for family and friends is still pretty long or you've finished your shopping, this year you may be thinking more about what, and how, to give to the rest of the world.
All over the world, Mercy Corps gives books, clothes, and tools away -- and it gives in so many other ways. While it's giving families food and water right after disaster strikes or the means to feed themselves forever, it also offers us so many ways to donate. We can donate to those who are still rebuilding their lives after the hurricanes in the U.S. and the tsunami in Asia. If you're not thinking all that much about how to give, you can give to a general category. A partridge in a pear tree? Mercy Corps gives a goat or seeds to grow fruit.
Giving to Mercy Corps is kind of like shopping online. You can donate through Foolanthropy, or go to its website, which offers the same menu of relief efforts around the globe and a catalog of Mercy Kits, including one for $50 that helps many in Afghanistan and Sudan settle into a peaceful, more normal life. If you'd like your donation to be counted toward Mercy Corp's Foolanthropy tally (whichever charity raises the most gets an extra $10,000 chipped in by the Fool), remember to type in Foolanthropy or The Motley Fool to the personal message space.
Mercy Corps helps those who are suffering with immediate needs, but it also helps people longer-term to rebuild their homes and lives and develop sustainable economic development. Sometimes we see only distress in the pictures of people we want to help. At mercycorps.org, there's a different look on the faces of their recipients.
So much of the money that is donated -- 92% -- goes directly to programs, like the cash-for-work one in Pakistan in which Mercy Corps pays a standard day's wage to residents affected by the earthquake to build shelters in villages. "They take down what is destroyed on the lot. We emphasize using what is there, and we use corrugated tin roofs (provided by Mercy Corps)," communications director Jeremy Barnicle said.
"We've been able to manage a significant recovery in three massive natural disasters,'' Barnicle also said. A recent Oprah show included a segment about Mercy Corps' work in Sri Lanka after the tsunami.
In the last year alone, Mercy Corps has responded to the tsunami, the Gulf Coast hurricanes, and the earthquake centered in Pakistan in October. On Dec. 26, it will be one year to the day since the tsunami hit. Since then, Mercy Corps has helped fish sellers and others who were affected get back to work. It was also working in Indonesia within 24 hours of the tsunami and had the cash-for-work program in place within a month of the Pakistan earthquake. After Hurricane Katrina, Mercy Corps first set up services in a garage in Baton Rouge and went to the Mississippi coast before it could reach New Orleans, which was initially off limits.
And for next year, Mercy Corps is working with a credit union to try to create low-interest loans for small business owners in Louisiana and Mississippi who want to get back to work but have lost the tools they need to do so. It's salvaging building materials in New Orleans and other areas affected by the hurricanes, too. Some homeowners are still waiting for FEMA to help them rebuild their homes. Using a project started in its home base of Portland, Ore., Mercy Corps is helping some of these people take apart their homes and recycle materials, including windows, in their new homes. In Hancock County, Miss., it also distributed tools such as chain saws and cleaning supplies to help families repair their homes.
Mercy Corps gave social service grants to proven organizations in Baton Rouge, whose population doubled after Katrina hit. Next year, the charity will give similar grants to organizations in New Orleans as more residents return home. With Head Start as a partner, it also distributed comfort kits with toys, books, and school supplies to kids, including those in Houston and Dallas. Older kids received back-to-school kits.
For your gift list, the Mercy Kits can cost anywhere from $20 to $250, and donors can give them as gifts in someone else's name. Once you choose a kit, the recipient gets a card telling them about what Mercy Corps is doing with the money: The agricultural programs help families plant and maintain their own gardens for fresh fruits and vegetables, or learn about beekeeping and harvesting honey.
In addition to responding to disasters, Mercy Corps is restoring mills and other businesses, offering affordable credit, and teaching about health, farming, and building community. Mercy Corps helps people get back to living, working -- and playing.
To donate to Mercy Corps through Foolanthropy, click here.
Mercy Corps is also a partner with Pax World Service, which established the Pax World Balanced Fund, in humanitarian efforts around the world. For advice on mutual funds, click here for a free trial of Motley Fool Champion Funds.
Lee Barnes is an online editor. She is also a member of the Foolanthropy 2005 committee.