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Presbyterian Giving Catalog gives families endless ideas

Now in its eighth year, the catalog can help you locate the perfect Christmas gift

by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterians Today

The Meester family in the chicken house circa 1960. Twin brothers Raymond and Richard stand in front of their parents, Eveline and Calvin.
(Photo courtesy of Raymond Meester)

Although the iconic Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog and its Christmas companion, the Sears Wish Book, are relics of a bygone age, the well-loved tradition of families poring over every one of its colorful pages in search of the perfect gift lives on in the Presbyterian Giving Catalog.

“The Presbyterian Giving Catalog is our modern-day Sears Wish Book, only now not for ourselves, but for others,” said Sheri Dittman, commissioned pastor for First Presbyterian Church in Brownsville, Texas, and part-time coordinator of congregational development for First Presbyterian Church in Mission, Texas. “In every children’s message or program, my goal is to help the children in my congregations to think beyond themselves. The catalog is a good way for us to think of others — not only in our community or only in our country, but around the world — and how we can make a difference $25 at a time.”

Now in its eighth year, the Presbyterian Giving Catalog is filled with a variety of gifts at a wide range of prices that provide help and relief to families and communities in need, including aid for refugees, access to clean water and ways to end hunger. It is also a timely teaching tool that Sara Core was looking for last Christmas.

Core, who has served for the past two years as commissioned pastor of the First Presbyterian Church shared ministry in Snyder and Colorado City, Texas, learned about the Giving Catalog from one of the church’s ruling elders who gives the gift to their grandchildren of “giving a gift” from the catalog to help others.

“I thought that was a great idea,” said Core. “And since my grandchildren are getting old enough to understand that there are people in the world who are in need, I got all five of them together last Christmas and invited them to choose what they would like to give to others. They were very excited to do this, and I loved that they have such giving hearts. They chose farm tools and a pig, among other things.”

Of the Giving Catalog’s many gift options, piglets are a perennial favorite, as are chickens. It was those very chickens that caused the Rev. Raymond Meester, an honorably retired member and a former stated clerk of Homestead Presbytery, to give the Giving Catalog a second look.

“When I was about to toss the mailing, I saw the gift of chickens,” said Meester. “It brought back memories of growing up on a small, 200-acre farm in north central Iowa during the ’50s and ’60s.”

Those 200 acres — owned by Meester’s father and one of his brothers, where they raised pigs and milked 25 to 30 cows — supported two families with a meager income. But it was his family’s small laying hen operation that Meester loves to tell the story of, remembering how every May, they would get 500-day-old hens and 50 roosters.

Every night for the first few weeks, Meester recalls, they would herd the chicks underneath the brooder to keep them warm during cold nights. When the chicks started laying eggs, the previous year’s layers were sold for soup meat. And what was the fate of the 50 roosters? Meester said they ended up in the freezer waiting to appear as Sunday dinner in the form of “Mom’s best pan-fried chicken.”

But it was the money generated from selling the eggs that Meester now remembers the most, as the income was what paid for groceries, school hot lunches, clothes and gas for the car.

“When I saw the gift of chickens in the Giving Catalog, all those memories came back to me. I finally came to the realization — at age 70 — that those egg-laying chickens provided our family with a livelihood all those years,” said Meester, adding, “With appreciation for those chickens that lived on our farm, my wife Ramona and I sent a small gift so that others could buy chickens for their livelihood.”

In the Christmas poem by Christina Rossetti that provides the lyrics for the moving carol “In the Bleak Midwinter,” the question is asked: “What can I give Him, Poor as I am?” And the first answer is: “If I were a Shepherd, I would bring a lamb.” For Presbyterians, the answer can be a piglet, some chickens or any other gift offered in the Presbyterian Giving Catalog that will provide hope to those in need around the world.

Whatever gift that is chosen, Core, who found poring through the catalog with her grandchildren so much fun to do, said that she hopes “it enlarges not only my grandchildren’s thinking about what Christmas truly means, but everyone’s thinking as well.”

Emily Enders Odom is the associate director of Mission Communications for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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