Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | November 6, 2004

A heifer for the holidays

With the election season finally over, the hordes of holiday catalogs sent by overeager retailers no longer compete with a plethora of political pieces for space in my mailbox.

That’s at least one good thing that came out of this election.

Although I generally try to ignore the holiday merchants who try to sell me Christmas gifts and decorations weeks before Halloween, one catalog that arrived in October stood out from the rest. It came from a group called Heifer International.

The headline on the catalog modestly proclaims that it is “The Most Important Gift Catalog in the World.”

That bit of hyperbole was notable even in the frenzied presidential campaign filled with exaggerations, and coupled with a charming photograph of a sheep gracing its cover, I was hooked: I had to learn more.

It turns out that Heifer International is a 60-year-old charity that works to end hunger and poverty by giving food- and income-producing animals to poor families in 115 countries, including the United States. One of the group’s aims here at home is to support family farming by establishing markets that specialize in locally grown food.

Heifer International meets the Better Business Bureau’s standards for charitable organizations. It was named one of 10 “gold star” charities by Forbes magazine in 2003 and one of America’s 100 best charities by Worth Magazine. It has been honored by both President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush.

Heifer International began in 1944 after a relief worker during the Spanish Civil War realized the children to whom he was giving cups of milk would be much better served by the gift of a cow. When he returned to America, he shipped 17 heifers to malnourished children in Puerto Rico, and Heifers for Relief, now Heifer International, was under way.

The gift of an animal or animals – a goat, a llama, a water buffalo, a heifer, a sheep, a pig, a trio of rabbits, a flock of chicks, a hive of bees – benefits the family who receives it by providing food and income

I’m impressed that Heifer International requires their recipients to share their blessing. Recipients donate one or more of their animal’s offspring to other needy families in their community.

It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving, and on so many levels.

I was touched by the story of a Ugandan girl whose life was transformed by the gift of a goat from Heifer International. Her mother was able to sell milk and offspring from the goat, allowing the family to move from a thatched hut into a roofed house, and allowing her to go to school for the first time.

A Thai farmer’s clear-eyed realism sharply details the importance of his family’s water buffalo: “If I die, my family will weep for me. If my buffalo dies, my family will starve.”

It’s hard to find a better gift than that.

Every year, my Christmas list contains several people who I want to remember, but who really don’t need much, or who I really don’t know what to give.

I’m sure you have people like that on your holiday list, too. Does your child’s teacher really need another “World’s Best Teacher” mug? Will that cousin or uncle who lives far away and you rarely see really like that sweater or tie? Does your niece already have the doll or game or book you’re considering?

This year, I’ll be giving some unusual, but hopefully deeply appreciated and always remembered gifts to those difficult-to-shop-for people on my gift list, thanks to Heifer International.

For $10, I can give a share of a pig or a sheep or a share of a trio of rabbits.

For $20, I can give a share of llama, or a flock of chicks, ducks or geese.

For $25, I can give a share of a water buffalo.

For $30, I can give a honeybee hive.

For donations ranging from $120 to $500, I can give an entire animal to a needy family in honor of a friend or family member on my gift list. When I give the gift of a goat or heifer for the holidays, not only am I helping to improve the lives of those less fortunate, but I’m also spreading the word about a wonderful charitable organization.

I can’t think of a better or more appropriate gift for the holidays.

And I believe Heifer International has backed up its claim to publish the most important gift catalog in the world.



  1. […] glad to see that my favorite Food Network chef, Alton Brown, is promoting one of my favorite charities, Heifer […]

  2. hey, it took me only 11 years to get this catalog in my mail box;-)
    it’s great to see how, totally independent one of another, we ended up with the same thoughts and feelings, and… with different words that reflect our different personalities. no surprises here.

    and now you know that i didn’t read your post in 2004 😦

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