This Christmas season, consider giving the gift of sight, food for a homeless pet or a safe place to stay.
Today marks the launch of Giving Tuesday, a new holiday tradition touted by charitable groups nationwide, including Microsoft, Simon Malls and the United Way, according to the Givingseason.org website. It comes on the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two after-Thanksgiving sales events to lure shoppers to open their wallets.
Community Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasco has made giving the gift of giving easier with its sixth annual Alternative Gift Fair. On Saturday, Tri-Citians can talk to representatives from various charities and give donations in the name of their loved ones.
Then they can list their donations and buy a personalized gift card with hand-lettered calligraphy to wrap for Christmas.
In the first five years of the event, the Pasco church has raised $75,000 for charities.
Diane Reed, one of the congregation members who helped start the event, said to her that's astonishing because the church has a congregation of about 65 people.
"Our congregation is very committed to it because we've discovered that it is a way a small congregation can have a big impact," she said.
The community seemed to be looking for something to do for the holidays that would be more meaningful and true to the spirit of Christmas, Reed said.
This year, new charities to the event include Tri-Cities Sunrise Rotary Club's mission to provide vision to people suffering from cataracts in Ethiopia and Youth Suicide Prevention Program, Reed said.
A $50 donation can help Kennewick ophthalmologist Jim Guzek and the Rotary club restore the sight for one person in Ethiopia, said Don Miksch, chairman of the club's international committee.
In four trips, Guzek has performed more than 300 cataract surgeries that have restored sight to the people of Dembi Dolo, Miksch said. A fifth trip is planned in March.
The club also is supporting the education of an eye nurse at Abba Philippos Memorial Eye Clinic, operated by The Daughters of Charity in Dembi Dolo. The goal is for the nurse, once trained, to perform cataract surgeries on his own. It's a key part of making the program sustainable.
And Miksch said Guzek and Dr. Larry Thomas of California also have hired the only eye surgeon in the area. Dr. Samuel Bora was planning to move back to the capital city, but now will spend two weeks every month providing eye clinics in the rural areas of Dembi Dolo.
Other possible donations at the Alternative Gift Fair include: $5 for a hot meal for one team at My Friends Place, a Kennewick teen homeless shelter; $5 to $10 to feed a homeless dog or cat for a week through Pet Over Population Prevention; $25 to Friends of Badger Mountain for rock and gravel to build 10 yards of a new trail; and $50 to provide vaccinations to 50 people through Doctors Without Borders.
Reed said she does her own shopping at the fair. One year, she gave her in-laws a donation to a charity they like to support and that it was meaningful to them.
And some recipients of gifts from the fair have come the next year to do their own shopping, she said.
"There is usually something to fit almost anybody," she said.
Reed said families will bring their children, give them a budget and tell them to talk to the charity representatives and decide where to spend the money.
Crafts for kids also are offered, she said.
The fair is from noon to 4 p.m. at the Pasco church, 2819 W. Sylvester St. Those who can't make it can still submit an order form, but need to have it to the church by Dec. 8.
For more information and the order form, go to www.communityuu.org.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org