It may be the time for families to gather, but my relatives this year are far flung. 

My sister is in France with her family, and thank heavens for Skype. 

The largest gathering will be at the ranch in California; one daughter, one son, his significant other, two grandchildren and their father, possibly more. My newly found daughter and granddaughter are back home in Texas. 

I’ll be with my other daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter in Montana where snow has been falling for weeks. That cuts down on shopping opportunities but who cares; it’ll be a white Christmas for sure. 

Thanks to the Target fiasco and local market Rosauer’s similar flap over credit/debit card thefts, all gifts purchased on the only snow-free day were paid for in cash. Luddites unite. Plastic is subject to cybercrime; cash is back in fashion. 

Christmas travel is treacherous, what with stormy weather, cancelled flights, long delays at airports, road closures, etc.; I can only wish travelers safe journey while I dig in. 

So I sit down to make out checks to organizations I admire and that need my help. But the list seems to shrink every year. Greenpeace didn’t make the cut because its methods are so disruptive they have caused international incidents that may prove difficult to resolve. Sierra Club is off the list because of a computer glitch (sound familiar?) that the organization seems reluctant to fix: they’ve listed my last name as “Lemac” and try though I may, it hasn’t been set right on their web records, which, I assume, invalidates my signature on petitions as that name doesn’t appear on voter registration records. Amazing that they’ve got it right on mailing lists because they keep dunning me for donations. 

I check the usual group names with Charity Navigator after watching a PBS interview with CEO Ken Berger. I’ve also given up on several NGOs that spend all their money on legal wrangling with government agencies, which then have to waste time and taxpayer money on defense. I never realized what that impact was until the new director of Yellowstone National Park called it to my attention. 

Since animals are my passion, Defenders of Wildlife (3 stars) is still on the list, as is the National Resources Defense Council (4 stars, the top rating). 

While checking Charity Navigator I found The Elephant Sanctuary (4 stars) based in Tennessee. How could I resist? It provides shelter for old circus performers and zoo pachyderms that aren’t doing well in confined spaces. Also earning 4 stars is the Wildlife Conservation Network of Los Altos, Calif. and Wildlife Forever in Brooklyn Center, Minn. 

Doctors Without Borders is still in the hunt with top Charity Navigator ratings across the board including financial, accountability and transparency. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists (4 stars) holds government agencies accountable for clean water and food issues and publishes the “Environmental Nutrition” newsletter devoted to news of studies on health issues. Center for Science in the Public Interest publishes “Nutrition Action Healthletter” which names common food brands and rates them according to nutrition data (3 stars). 

Montana Wilderness Association and the Wilderness Society are both doing similar work well, promoting protection of unspoiled and roadless areas for public use. I also favor a local conservation organization called Gallatin Valley Land Trust that works very hard to save family farms when the owners retire, signing conservation easements to keep the land from being developed while allowing the family to live on the property. 

I’ve already made my annual donation to the local public library, Yellowstone Association and Yellowstone Public Radio; but still need to send a check to Friends of Montana Public Television. 

That leaves a sizeable chunk for the Montana Food Bank Network and our local Gallatin Valley Food Bank; I also plan to volunteer at the local GV Food Bank for the coming year. 

For last minute gifts not purchased due to inclement weather, my vote goes to Heifer International. I showed its gift brochure to my granddaughter and she chose rabbits or goats to be given to families in Africa. 

At a time when many children here receive expensive electronics, it seems a good idea to show kids how to give useful gifts to people we don’t know by name but who have none of the things we take for granted: clean drinking water, nutrient-rich food, adequate shelter and clothing. 

Since we are so blessed, perhaps this is in the real spirit of Christmas. 

(2) comments

Matt Horns

Yesterday I brought food and water to homeless people in my neighborhood.

Matt Horns

All of my Christmas presents are artwork that I made myself.

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