Heifer Project issues second gift catalog

November 30, 1992|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Heifer Project International has some unique Christmas gif ideas this year for the person who has nothing.

The worldwide, ecumenical organization -- which has mid-Atlantic regional offices in New Windsor -- has issued its second "Most Important Gift Catalogue in the World." Unlike traditional catalogs, Heifer Project's allows buyers to purchase animals in honor of a friend or family member. The animals are sent to needy families in areas as diverse as Africa and Garrett County.

The recipients are expected to breed the animals -- which include heifers, goats, sheep, rabbits and food fish -- and give the first female offspring to another member of their community. They are also encouraged to use and sell the animal byproducts, such as milk or wool, to help their household economies.

"With the deteriorating economies worldwide, people who are fortunate enough to have work and have a few extra dollars are more conscious of those in need," said John Dieterly, head of the New Windsor program. "Giving a gift like this helps someone less fortunate and seems to fit in with the times a little better."

Although Heifer Project has been promoting the idea of "alternate" gift giving -- giving a gift in honor of rather than directly to a person -- for about nine years, the idea didn't really catch on until last year, when the group produced its first glossy catalog.

"When we started, the concept was new and people didn't really understand," Mr. Dieterly said.

Heifer Project workers had to explain that the animal was not given directly to the friend or family member but in honor of that person, he said. But, as time went on, the approach was better received.

"We received a lot of notes [last year] from people saying it was great to give a gift and have a sense of where it is going and the good it is doing," Mr. Dieterly said.

The catalog was produced after the group examined its expenses and determined that money specified for animals was really being spent for that purpose, he said.

However, Heifer Project does accept non-designated donations.

"We need money for training, transportation costs and follow-up needs," Mr. Dieterly said. "In our catalog, we say that if a particular project has received adequate funding, the money will be used in similar projects."

For example, the group is now buying feed for animals that were sent to drought-stricken areas in southern Africa. When the drought is over, the families will be able to feed the animals themselves, he said.

Heifer Project also gives money to existing programs that teach people about caring for animals. "A good illustration is the [local] extension agency," Mr. Dieterly said. "It simply may be that the extension service is pretty well scheduled and has no more money for programs. We can give them a few more dollars."

Finally, the group often makes contracts with local veterinarians to ensure the health of the animals.

"The veterinarian might be 20 miles away," Mr. Dieterly said. "So, we make an agreement with him to come once a month and respond to two emergency calls a month."

Heifer Project has programs to help poor people in 35 countries and 19 areas of the United States, including a fledging program in Garrett County.

"The most important factor for us is whether there is a local organization willing to be our day-to-day representatives," Mr. Dieterly said. "We don't employ enough people for someone to be in every project area, so there is some local organization, in many cases a church, to handle the project."

In some cases, a group of farmers can organize to receive the aid, as a group did in Mississippi, he said. One farmer had requested information about cattle, and when he learned that Heifer Project works only with groups, he organized 14 other farmers to receive the aid.

"If they went to all that effort to organize a group, then they are serious enough for us to send a representative to talk about the Heifer Project," Mr. Dieterly said.

Passing on the animals is an important part of the Heifer Project, he said. The recipients promote individual responsibility among group members, who decide among themselves who will get the next animal and when to pass it on.

Group members are also encouraged to support the programs financially. For example, they might be asked to pay a nominal fee when the veterinarian visits, provide food for themselves and the extension agent during daylong training sessions, or to sell one of the animal's offspring to benefit the project's coffers.

"In most projects, we encourage them to think in terms of more than one year," Mr. Dieterly said. He said it takes at least three years for a program to be self-supporting. "It's fascinating to see the people . . . keep the program going.

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