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Give a Gift That Helps the World

I dread holiday shopping.

It’s difficult enough to figure out just the perfect gift for each and every loved one on your holiday list. But if you add in the hassle of navigating crowded shopping malls, long lines, and busy parking lots, I know I’m destined for an instant stress headache before I even walk through the store’s doors. 

No wonder so many of us have resorted to ditching traditional brick-and-mortar shopping and have opted for virtual shopping. And it’s no wonder that revenue from this year's "Cyber-Monday" could exceed $1 billion for the second year. 

For me, online shopping is so much faster, easier, simpler, and you don’t have to tell the clerk for umpteenth time, “I’m just looking, but thanks for offering to help.” 

Yet, this holiday season it’s not only the online shopping trend that’s increasing. At World Vision, the international Christian humanitarian organization, we’ve noticed that more people want to give gifts that actually mean something, or even help make a difference. According to a new study commissioned by World Vision, more than half (51 percent) of the Americans surveyed say they’re now more likely to give a charitable gift this holiday season than a traditional present. 

I’ll admit it. I’ve given and received my fair share of Christmas sweaters. There is a stack in my closet and I have no clue who gave them to me. Although they keep me warm, is it too idealistic to think I can actually give a gift that’s just a bit more impact or even be potentially life-changing? 

I know that it is possible because last Christmas, I was invited to travel with World Vision on a holiday tour through several nations in Africa to see firsthand how presents from the organization’s annual gift catalog items impact the lives of real people. 

I visited families in Tanzania who had received cows, goats, micro-loans and other unique gifts from generous strangers halfway across the world. 

I met 12-year-old Elvis and learned how he’s now able to go to the best school in his community and teach his neighbors English because his family received several chickens from donors a few years go. 

I visited 4-year-old Rose, a girl whose older siblings grew up going to bed hungry more often than not. I witnessed her smile as she proudly held up a tall cup of milk produced from a World Vision dairy cow her mom had received the Christmas before. 

But the Christmas gift I’m most proud to have given myself is the gift of child sponsorship. While on last year’s trip, I met a 9-year-old boy in Ghana named Alfred and decided to sponsor him through World Vision. 

Nearly a year later, his photograph remains on my refrigerator as a reminder that the $35 I give each month on his behalf are representative of a gift that keeps on giving through health care, clean water, education and other things so many of us take for granted. 

It may make you cringe to think of all the millions of dollars that will be spent this Monday on more stuff so many of us just don’t need. But it does make you look at Cyber-Monday a bit differently when you realize that online shopping can help transform lives too. 

Last year, more than half of the funds donated through the gift catalog were from online contributions. This year, that percentage may increase. And who knows? If you are like me, you may click through the more than 100 gift catalog items offered online and may realize Christmas shopping can be meaningful….and yes, even fun. 

Mindy Mizell is media relations director for World Vision.