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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - December 2007

While the holidays hold different meanings for various faiths, one common thread is the idea of giving. For the next few weeks we will be bombarded with gift ideas from television, radio, newspapers and the Internet. Certainly the stores are full of merchandise with everything that didn’t sell last year to this year’s “must have” items. Too often we purchase gifts for family and friends that they do not need or even want as evidenced by the return lines after the holidays. Well, I have some gift suggestions that would be greatly appreciated by those who receive them.

The first category is financial donations. Has a friend or loved one passed away during the last year from cancer, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, AIDS, or was a victim of a violent crime? A nice way to honor their memory and help organizations working to prevent future deaths would be to make a donation to an appropriate organization in his or her name. Donations can also be made in the name of a living friend or family member.

The second category is the donation of items to those who otherwise would share no joy during the holidays. According to the Community Action Network, 116,000 Travis County residents live below the poverty line. They have basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter as well as the desire to be able to provide gifts for their children during the holidays. The options here are numerous, but the Capitol Area Food Bank , KVUE’s Coats for Kids, the Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace are good choices. Blue and Brown Santa are also excellent organizations which distribute gifts to children.

The third category is the investment of your time. For many, this is the hardest to do but for those who can, it can be the most rewarding form of giving. As a mentor or a Big Brother or Sister, you might be the only positive role model in a child’s life. Helping to build homes with Habitat for Humanity is an incredibly meaningful gift to recipients. Travis County district judges hear more than 2,000 cases for children with issues of abuse or neglect each year. These children need CASA volunteers (child advocates) as well as foster and adoptive parents. Many people of my faith also volunteer to help at hospitals and other places on Christmas Day so others can be home with their families.

Wherever we choose to make donations, we want to know that the organization is legitimate, that the money raised actually goes to the stated purpose; and that administrative costs are at an acceptable level for a charitable organization. The Wise Giving Alliance, www.give.org, operated by the Better Business Bureau provides information about charitable organizations and provides tips for making informed charitable decisions. The Charitable Trusts division of the Attorney General’s, www.oag.state.tx.us office also provides charitable giving tips, maintains a list of charities registered with the State of Texas, and investigates complaints filed against charitable organizations.

These gifts of financial donations, items, and time will not break, sit in a closet, or be returned. They will offer help, hope and opportunity to those in our community who have not been blessed with health, wealth, or stable family lives. These gifts will be given in the true spirit of the holiday season and will surely be appreciated more than the hottest toy or gadget.

I hope you and your family enjoy a safe and happy holiday season.



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