How I learned to give.

9,000 AIDS orphans helped in Lesotho by CRS since 2002.(David Snyder)

I am one of eight kids. So in our house, the laundry room was where my mom spent a great deal of her time and where she kept the things closest to her heart: the bleach, her mending kit, the fly swatter, and the heavy little box of change that she sent off every month to Catholic Relief Services. She had emblazoned on the side of the box in her pretty handwriting, “For the Poor” and while I routinely stole money out of her change purse for candy, gum and school lunches (we had to bring our pathetic bologna sandwiches from home), I never dreamed of touching that box. It was sacred.

CRS builds schools for girls in Pakistan (Laura Sheahen)

Catholic Relief Services is a great organization worthy of your support, even if you can’t stand The Catholic Church. (As Nicholas Kristof writes, “This is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the church that supports extraordinary aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, saving lives every day, and that operates superb schools that provide needy children an escalator out of poverty.”)

CRS promotes healthier agriculture in The Gambia. (Lane Hartill)

Amen to that, Saint Nick! CRS was started by the U.S. bishops in 1943 to help refugees in Europe, and a lot of its money comes from passing the basket at church and from monthly givers like my mom. CRS shows up at global emergencies almost as quickly as Doctors Without Borders, and because it’s already got people on the ground — in every parish, in every diocese — it’s able to immediately build capacity, work existing networks, and get things done. In 2009 alone, CRS brought relief to more than 100 million people in over 100 countries and included sustainable development initiatives in agriculture, health, education, HIV/AIDS, microfinance and peace building. They’re not parachuting in and quickly leaving– they’re already there in country, living and working to take care of 1/4 of the world’s AIDS population, orphans, and the poorest of the poor.

CRS in Indonesia after the tsunami (Laura Sheahen)

But just in case you think Catholic Relief Services is some cynical plan to convert the world to Catholicism, you should know they have 4 offices and employ more than 250 native people in Afghanistan, which is 99% Muslim and not likely to be singing Ave Maria anytime soon.  Best of all, Catholic Relief Services puts its money where its mouth is (like me!) – and 95 cents of every dollar you give goes directly to the poor.

Providing water in Afghanistan!

If you’re still holiday shopping,  click here to give the gift of hope through specific CRS projects like building schools for orphans in Malawi. Or buy really wonderful fair trade crafts at CRS‘s Work of Human Hands. Or just give directly like me– from my little box titled “For the Poor.”

(Catholic Relief Services is an “A” rated American Institute of Philanthropy charity.)