Gifts That Keep on Giving 

Instead of buying useless crap out of obligation—or worse, desperation—why not spend your money where it'll do the most good: on charities and nonprofits that need your help now more than ever? One ingenious solution is Giving Tree (, a company founded by Nashvillians Nick Nicholas and Jeff Jacobs, which sells prepaid Visa/MasterCard gift cards that can be used like cash. The twist: When the recipient activates the card online, he donates the first 10 percent of its face value to the nonprofit of his choice, then spends the rest at stores or restaurants—thus boosting both local businesses and local charities.

As refugees from Africa and the Middle East come by the hundreds to Middle Tennessee, fleeing strife in their homelands, the Refugee & Immigration Services division of Catholic Charities of Tennessee (10 S. 6th St., 259-3567; faces a severe shortage of gifts for all ages this season. Staffer GiGi Rose understands "this is a tough year for everybody," but any contribution—from books and toys to warm clothes and grocery gift cards—would brighten the lives of some of the area's neediest residents.

Other organizations that could always use help are Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee (329-3491;, which needs canned fruits, vegetables and meats and dried goods; Nashville CARES (501 Brick Church Park Dr., 259-4866;, which leads the fight against HIV and AIDS in Middle Tennessee; the Salvation Army (255-0921; and its citywide Angel Tree program, distributing holiday gifts to those without resources; and the Nashville Humane Association (213 Oceola Ave., 352-1010;, which urgently needs canned cat and dog food and towels, used or new. Safe Haven Family Shelter (1234 3rd Ave. S., 256-8195; is looking for charity-seeking organizations to shepherd homeless families back to shelter and self-sufficiency through its "Guardian Angel" program.

Few charities demonstrate the large value of small sums more dramatically than Modest Needs ( Founded seven years ago by former Nashvillian Keith Taylor, Modest Needs pays the sometimes piddly onetime expenses that can make the difference between poverty and solvency for hard-hit individuals and families—a late charge, a doctor's visit, the car repair that gets a widowed mother to her son's clinical treatment. What's particularly inspiring is that much of Modest Needs' money comes from people in no better financial straits. Donations that amount to pocket change are common—and yet they add up, as a scan through the site's heartrending testimonials shows. At a time when so many need help, rest assured this is one gift that won't gather cobwebs on a shelf.


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