LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Instead of waiting in line with hundreds of others for a chance at nabbing the year’s hottest Christmas gifts, Food Network chef Alton Brown decided on an intangible alternative for the people on his list – a donation to Heifer International.
Brown is on a growing list of donors that give to the Little Rock-based charity at the holidays finding that, sometimes, the perfect gift for the person who has everything is to give them nothing – except the satisfaction of knowing money was spent to help poor people worldwide.
“If I can get a couple of cows in Russia, bees to people in Kentucky, or a couple of flocks of geese to folks in China, that actually matters and I feel really good about it,” Brown said from his Atlanta office at Be Square Productions, the company that produces his “Good Eats” show for the cable television network.
Heifer works in 50 countries to provide animals ranging from snails and silkworms to elephants and water buffalo. The charity’s goal is to provide the livestock to needy families so they can produce a product, such as milk or silk, and support themselves. Recipients are required to give some of the animals’ offspring to neighbors to pass on the gift.
The communities where Heifer works choose recipients typically through a democratic process, said Ray White, a spokesman for the organization. “Sometimes they’ll pick families that are ready first, that have the most developed food security system for the animals,” White said.
The 62-year-old organization began when Dan West formed Heifers for Relief after working for Church of the Brethren handing out rations of milk to children during the Spanish Civil War.
West thought that providing families with livestock and training would help them provide for themselves and not have to depend on others for food. So in 1944, the first shipment of 17 heifers left York, Penn., bound for Puerto Rico.
White said that Heifer has “denominational partners” in its 15-person board today but is not affiliated with any religious organization. The charity now has a list of 7,000 corporate donors.
Be Square Productions donates a Gift Ark every year – a $5,000 donation that includes two each of Heifer’s animals including cows, sheep, camels, oxen, water buffalo and rabbits, among many others. The animals go wherever they are needed most.
Brown donates money himself and in the names of his clients. Many times, he said, the people whose name the donation was given in are honored when they receive the gift card explaining that others will benefit from the money.
“I think a lot of people realize ‘We’ve got a lot,’ ” Brown said. “And it’s not that they don’t need anything, but this gift actually has meaning. We tell them the Earth is going to be a better place in your name.”