Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is over and Christmas, also symbolized by lights, is now upon us.
Despite the pleas of retailers and the Governor, people I have spoken with are spending less this year on Christmas presents. More and more people are making their own gifts, or giving practical ones, like basic clothing.
In the spirit of the frugal holiday season, let me suggest some unusual gifts -- gifts of light.
A gift of life. How about donating a pint of blood through the American Red Cross? Do you have a dear friend or relative who cannot give blood for some reason? Give a pint in their name. You cannot get AIDS from donating blood.
According to the Red Cross, blood is really a series of products, platelets, red blood cells and plasma, to name but a few. So, if your gift cannot be used immediately, it can be separated into component parts and used in a variety of life-saving conditions. Besides, being a blood donor sets a wonderful example for your older teens.
Work gift certificates. Make out a gift certificate for your favorite charity, redeemable for whatever hours you can spare. This is a spinoff from the old work certificates that your young children may have given you. This is a terrific way for a family to donate to a charity of their choice. Discuss this idea with your children, giving them an opportunity to suggest causes they wish to help. Then, make out a certificate in the name of the whole family.
With so few chances for families to do things together nowadays, here is an excellent opportunity for everyone to get involved.
Gift-in-kind. The end of the year is a great time to clean out old closets, the garage, the backyard shed. Donate things that are in good shape to less fortunate people. Goodwill and the Salvation Army are two fine organizations to contact with your donations. You can even claim a tax deduction for your gift.
Life insurance. If you are a senior citizen, check over your life insurance policies. You may have one or two that you no longer need, since your family protection requirements are now lowered. Sign over the policy to a non-profit organization of your choice. There are attractive tax deductions associated with such a gift, too. Many charitable groups can provide information about the process. Speak to your financial adviser first, though.
Increase payroll deduction. Before the end of the year, ask the personnel officer at your place of work to boost your payroll deduction for the United Way (or other campaign) by just $1. Look at it this way. One dollar a week provides $52 that United Way will put to good use in 1992. If, instead, you take the $52, you would only see about $37.50 anyway, due to taxes. By donating it, you can claim the full deduction.
What could United Way do with the extra money?
According to Mel Tansill, spokesman, "A gift of $1 each week will provide two nights of shelter, clothing, housing and employment counseling for a homeless person, provide a nutritious meal for 25 hungry children, provide an initial screening and counseling for an AIDS patient, provide a night of shelter and counseling for a family experiencing domestic violence, or provide five individual counseling sessions for persons coping with drug and alcohol abuse problems."
Pretty impressive, don't you think?
Hands-on group. Tired of trying to get together with friends whose family schedules conflict? Try putting together a friends and families work party. Decide on one open weekend date, then solicit your friends. Those who can't come this year will hear about all the fun they missed and will be sure to come the next.
Come up with a hands-on project for a local charity that can be done in 4 to 6 hours, like landscaping a local clinic, cleaning trash from a community stream, painting a YMCA or taking pledges for your public television station. The charity pays for the materials, you provide the bodies.
These are only a sprinkling of suggestions to make Christmas personally more rewarding. If you have other ideas for helping charities during this season, especially ones that get the entire family involved, send them to me in care of The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278.
Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.