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BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: The Christian relief organization World Vision commissioned a survey recently which found that, because of the recession, 71 percent of Americans say they will spend less money on holiday presents this year, and nearly half (49 percent) say they are more likely to make a charitable gift.

The phenomenon of the charitable gift works like this. You look at a catalog from Heifer International, or World Vision, or Oxfam America, or some other group that helps the world’s poor become more self-reliant. Usually, what’s offered are animals, so say you give $25 for two chickens. The charity uses the money and sends you a card you can send to someone on your list saying, “I bought two chickens, or whatever, in your name.”

The most popular item by far is a goat at $75. Even Heifer International says goats are its number one item — all that milk and kids, too.

charitable-gifts-goat

Heifers, young cows, go for $500, and you can buy a share of one for $50.

World Vision says water wells are its number two most popular item after goats. You can buy a share of a deep well for $150.

A fish pond is $200, and a fishing kit, $40.

And the gifts are not all related to food. Sewing machines are big, and so are school supplies at $25 per classroom. For schools, corporate gifts more than match your own, so a $50 donation for supplies brings $700 worth of books and paper and caps and gowns.

Also, to help build good soil out of hard-packed dirt, Oxfam America and other groups offer a can of worms: one pound for 18 bucks.

In their gift catalogs the charity groups acknowledge that they don’t exactly deliver a heifer or pig for every request for one. The happy pictures are just symbolic, they say. Every gift does go to help the very poor, but what it buys depends on what is most needed at the time. You could order a goat and get part of a water buffalo, and you would never know.

But don’t despair. These charity organizations have good reputations for efficiency and results. And remember, however your donation ends up, every gift is tax deductible.

Charitable Gifts

Cows, goats, worms, water wells, and sewing machines are being donated this holiday season to charitable organizations, including Heifer International, World Vision, and Oxfam.