The economist Joel Waldfogel claims Christmas presents are a waste of money because most people don't really like what you give them. So the heck with them--bake some cookies for the folks on your list, because everyone likes cookies, and give generously to any or all of the great groups below.
Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center.
Co-founded by Charon Asetoyer, who did so much to defeat South Dakota's proposed abortion ban (twice!), this project of the Native American Community Board helps women and children on or near the Yankton Sioux reservation. There's a domestic violence shelter, a food pantry, counseling, help with transitional housing, plus important work documenting violence against Native American women and the insufficient response of the Indian Health Service and other federal bureaus. (Make checks out to NACB with "NAWHERC" on the memo line, Box 572, Lake Andes, SD 57356; nativeshop.org )
Gulf Region Advocacy Center.
This Houston-based group provides free legal help to indigent capital defendants in execution-happy Texas. GRACE has moved juries to see a life worth preserving, improved the way trials are conducted and helped build the legal framework against the death penalty. Keep it going in these desperate times. (2307 Union Street, Houston TX 77007; gracelaw.org )
Freedom From Religion Foundation
. If you have had it up to here with faith-based initiatives, creationism and clerical prying into our private lives, FFRF is the organization for you. This scrappy group brings lawsuits against church-state entanglements and puts up witty billboards and bus signs promoting, well, freedom from religion. Reason's Greetings! (Box 750, Madison, WI 53701; ffrf.org )
Founded by a Brazilian sociologist and an American anthropologist, this group helps girls from the slums of Salvador, Brazil, with education, healthcare, food and counseling to help them break out of the cycle of poverty and violence. It works! The first girls went off to college this year, and more on the way. (1005 NE Boat Street, Seattle, WA 98105; bahiastreet.org )
More troops are not going to help Afghan women become literate or self-supporting or safe from violence. That takes local knowledge and hands-on involvement. Women for Afghan Women, on whose advisory board I serve, runs women's shelters in Kabul and other cities, plus a home for the children of women in prison. Its Afghan Women's Fund, directed by the heroic Fahima Vorgetts, builds schools, digs wells and sets up women's councils that provide literacy classes and job training in the countryside. (Checks to WAW go to 32-17 College Point Boulevard, Room 206, Flushing, NY 11354; womenforafghanwomen.org . To support the AWF, make out a check to WAW/AWF, 978 Yachtsman Way, Annapolis, MD 21403)
University Scholarships for South African Students.
The brainchild of philosopher Robert Paul Wolff, USSAS celebrates its twentieth year of helping low-income young people attend university. Recently, it has focused on students dedicated to fighting AIDS--as social workers, health workers, pharmacists, scientists. So your donation not only educates talented students; it helps them help others. (631 Meadowmont Village Circle, Chapel Hill, NC 27517; ussas.com )
National Network of Abortion Funds.
No matter what Bart Stupak says, more and more women all over the country cannot afford to terminate a crisis pregnancy. By the time a woman pulls together the roughly $400 cost of an early procedure, she can be into the much more expensive and harder-to-access second trimester. Local volunteer abortion funds help with costs and arrangements, but they can only give out what they have. (Help with a check to NNAF with "Patient Care" on the memo line, 42 Seaverns Avenue, Boston, MA 02130; nnaf.org )
This landlocked African nation is the seventh-poorest in the world and has the third-highest incidence of HIV/AIDS. More than 30 percent of its children are orphans, who if lucky are being raised by grandmothers, many desperately poor. With the sad but determined motto "Creating a future for those who are left!" this Canadian NGO supports 9,000 children and grandmothers with everything from school fees and food to training in HIV prevention and gender equality. Send a child to school for $465 Canadian a year or support a grandmother for $20 a month. (Keller Williams Ottawa Building, 610 Bronson Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1S 4E6; helplesotho.ca )
China Labor Watch.
Just about everything we buy is made in China, but who are the people who make those things? CLW investigates conditions in Chinese factories contracted and subcontracted by multinational corporations--Wal-Mart, Mattel, McDonald's, Disney, Adidas and others--and helps workers win better pay and conditions. On a budget that would barely keep a hedge funder in champagne over Christmas, CLW stood up for more than 50,000 workers in 2009. Think what it could do with ample support from Nation readers! (Box 4134, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10163; chinalaborwatch.org )
Overwhelmed by need from every corner of the globe? MADRE partners with groups to help women and children in more than a dozen countries. In Iraq, it supports Yanar Mohammed's network of secret shelters for women fleeing domestic violence and honor murder. In Kenya, it works on water purification projects that free women from the task of transporting water over long distances. In Palestine, it partners with Midwives for Peace to ensure safe childbirth. In Bolivia, it helps indigenous women prepare to run for political office. Right now, 100 percent of your gift goes directly to projects. (121 West 27 Street, Room 301, New York, NY 10001; madre.org )