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One of the most thoughtful holiday gifts my husband and I received this season was a donation in our names to UNICEF to aid the victims of last year’s floods in Haiti. It was good to know that we could help in even a small way, but it was also a reminder, as we reel from one disaster to the next in this country (wildfires, tornadoes, Omicron), of the ongoing needs of families, and especially children, in other parts of the world.

That’s where UNICEF comes in, and has come in, for over eight decades. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was created in 1946 to bring emergency food and health care to children and mothers in countries devastated by World War II, and in the years that followed its mandate was extended to address long-term needs of children and women in developing countries worldwide. In 1947, UNICEF USA was founded to support UNICEF’s lifesaving work for children.

(The words international and emergency were dropped from the organization’s name, but the acronym remained the same.)

A visit to the UNICEF USA site is at once heart-breaking — reports on children in crisis in Ethiopia, in Afghanistan, in Yemen — and hopeful. The organization is finding multiple ways to help the most vulnerable among us, from empowering girls in rural Peru to delivering COVID vaccine to countries in need. UNICEF’s partners in these efforts range from big corporations to faith-based charities, but equally important are donations and volunteer participation by people like you and me.

Photo: UNICEF USA Market.

Remember those little orange boxes many of us used to carry around to Trick or Treat for UNICEF? That’s still a thing (although the trick-or-treating went virtual last year). So are the many varieties of UNICEF holiday cards. But what you may not realize is that there’s a huge online UNICEF market featuring hand-crafted artisanal gifts — jewelry, home decor, clothing and more — and every purchase helps save children’s lives and supports talented artisans around the world.

The market is also where you’ll find “Inspired Gifts” — gifts of lifesaving supplies delivered to children and communities around the world. A gift of $55 provides a severely malnourished child with a two months’ supply of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food; a gift of $53 provides a family with an emergency family water and hygiene kit, and a gift of $276 would help five such families. The range of options is remarkable, and all can be given in the name of your own friends and family.

You can also, as my friends did, give a donation to help with emergency relief in specific parts of the world. For instance, here’s a page about how to help children in Haiti.

And there’s this alternative:  the UNICEF Gift Card. It can’t be applied to Inspired Gifts or donations, but it does offer access to the immense variety of handcrafted gifts on the site, and like any purchase you make from UNICEF, it’ll help save children’s lives.

I don’t know what speaks more to the spirit of Christmas than that.

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