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Charitable Celebs Remind Us That the Holiday Season is About Giving

12.12.12 Concert for Sandy Relief
The 12/12/12 Concert for Sandy Relief

It’s easy at holiday time to get swept up in consumerism. Ads bombard us with all the things we should want. Stores trumpet new and deeper sales every day. I’ve already started to worry about what I need to buy for my kids, my family, my friends.

It’s important to remember that the holidays are about giving — to others, to causes, to those in need.  The act of giving is not just about kindness and helping someone;  it’s good for the soul and the spirit. In 2006, neuroscientist Jorge Moll and a team of researchers from National Institutes of Health found that the mere thought of giving money to charity activates a part of the brain associated with pleasure.

Introduce your children to the concept of how good it feels to give now so that it becomes instilled in them early. Getting kids (or anyone) to think beyond themselves and their wish list can be a tall order. Sometimes examples can help. Charities often turn to celebrities to help bring attention to causes, and so we’re turning to some of those notable stars who are doing good works to inspire you and your family to follow suit and get involved.

Here are some:

— Many stars have donated to Superstorm Sandy relief efforts. Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel volunteered during a recent weekend, handing out supplies to people in Far Rockaway, some of whom have spent weeks without power. The Dave Matthews Band is donating proceeds from a Nov. 30 concert to the cause. ABC held a fundraising “day of giving.” NBC held a star-studded telethon. MTV held a telethon, appropriately led by its Jersey Shore stars. And Robert DeNiro, Whoopi Goldberg, and Michael J. Fox have participated in public service announcements urging donations be made to the Empire State Relief Fund, set up specifically by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for New Yorkers. No doubt the storm has been a topic of conversation in your home. Now maybe you can talk about ways to  give, even if it’s to allocate allowance money to go to the efforts. And of course, there’s the 12/12/12 Concert, which continues to add to the $50 million it has already raised.

— Jon Bon Jovi’s JBJ Soul Kitchen in Red Bank N.J. is an unusual restaurant. The concept is simple: Doors are open to everyone, but if you can’t pay for your meal? No problem. One hour of volunteering covers it. You don’t have to travel to New Jersey to help fight hunger. Among the organizations with  volunteer opportunities relating to food is Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief organization that coordinates the distribution of food and aid around the world. You can visit the group’s website to find out how to host your own meal-packing event.

Betty White
Betty White is a well-known animal rights activist

— Betty White gives to animal causes. It’s a passion and interest she has cultivated for years with many different organizations, but particularly with the Morris Animal Foundation in Denver, CO. She not only donates time and money. She has also personally sponsored more than 30 animal health studies, the foundation says, to improve the lives of cats, dogs, horses and many kinds of wildlife, including California sea otters, one of her favorites. The site encourages fundraising, and offers a way to create a personal webpage on the site in honor of a favorite pet for soliciting donations.

— Taylor Swift is a random charitable star. She has given to all sorts of different organizations, from a group focused on Internet safety to various schools around the country to flood victims in her home state of Nashville. Sometimes, like Taylor, you just need to be inspired by a cause and do what you can to help out.

Global Giving

When big catastrophes happen, they receive a lot of attention. Weather events, such as the recent Hurricane Sandy, the tsunami that hit Japan last year, the earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010 and, of course, incredibly destructive Hurricane Katrina in 2005, prompted charitable acts and giving from numerous celebrities.

Other, serious ongoing issues, often involving health and human rights, have prompted celebrities to get involved around the world and stay involved until the situation changes. These larger global issues often aren’t just about charitable giving, they are trying to bring about a change in the culture. In these cases, activism is another way to give.

Sean Penn
Sean Penn in Haiti

— Sean Penn was so moved by the hit that Haiti took during the 2010 earthquake that he immediately got involved. He and Los Angeles entrepreneur Sanela Diana Jenkins founded the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, (J/P stands for Jenkins/Penn). They began working immediately to save lives and help get programs set up in Haiti to provide emergency medical aide, remove rubble, help displaced families,  distribute food and water purification systems, help improve communication systems and housing. Penn was named an “ambassador at large to Haiti” by Haiti’s foreign affairs minister, Laurent Lamothe, earlier this year in recognition for all his work. Through the group’s website, you can find out about volunteering, fundraising and donating to the organization.

— U2 frontman Bono’s involvement with the ONE campaign, which is known worldwide, goes back to 2002 when he helped found a new advocacy group called DATA (debt, AIDS, trade, Africa). It was started with the idea of pressing governments in developed nations to help fight against extreme poverty in Africa.  In 2004, DATA and 10 other leading anti-poverty groups (including Bread for the World Institute, CARE USA, International Medical Corps, Oxfam America and Save the Children) joined to form ONE, a non-partisan campaign to fight poverty and preventable global disease. Since then Bono and others have met with world leaders, held fundraisers and worked in numerous ways on various issues. On ONE’s website there are many ways to help out, from contributing a sweet potato recipe to ONE’s new cookbook to calling Senators about issues to signing petitions for various initiatives.

— George Clooney and movie pals including Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Don Cheadle, got together in 2008 to form Not On Our Watch, an organization devoted to “end mass atrocities around the world.” The group cites Darfur, Burma (Myanmar) and Zimbabwe as main areas of concentration because brutal military regimes regularly torture, rape and drive people from their homes. But Clooney’s interest in Darfur goes back even earlier. In 2006, he spoke at a Darfur rally in Washington and in March of this year, he was arrested for protesting outside the Sudanese embassy for the Save Darfur organization. The site offers ways to “take action now” and suggests that calling Congressmen isn’t the only way to make a difference. You can also use creativity to share the message. Draw a picture or create a short film to highlight the problems and help spotlight the issue and educate others about it.

— Ben Affleck has had his eye on Africa, too, working with the Eastern Congo Initiative to bring awareness to and improve conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where rogue militia abduct children to serve as fighters or sex slaves and families face hunger and suffer from disease, unable to get proper food or medical care amid violence and civil war. His latest effort is Theo chocolate bars. The ECI connected with local cocoa farmers in theCongo with chocolate makers to create the firstCongo bar. The concept is to help raise money through a free market system, not just charity.

— Alicia Keys founded the Keep A Child Alive foundation, dedicated to AIDS treatment, care, nutrition and support services to families in Africa and India. Work focuses on building wellness centers, clinics and orphanages. Ways to donate, from creating your own web page to buying special items, can be found on the organization’s site.