When Helen and Ron Russell's daughter Tara was born, they were filled with the hope that she would one day make a difference in the world.
When the Russells' daughter announced her engagement to Dale Ethridge, the young couple was living and teaching in China; the Russells were retired in the Southwest; and the wedding was to be near Seattle. The task of planning for their only daughter's wedding suddenly seemed like a hike up Mount Everest.
How would months of planning, showers and registering for fine china ever happen?
But the young couple had made a fast and clear decision: This wedding was not going to be a day for collecting "stuff." It was to be a day of celebrating their love for one another with family and close friends.
They decided that gifts in honor of their special day would instead be donations to Heifer International, a nonprofit organization that gives farm animals to struggling families, who in turn pass on the gift of the animals' offspring to other families.
Suddenly, planning for the wedding from distant corners of the Earth became very simple. Along with their wedding invitation, they included their wishes regarding gifts and gave out Heifer's "Passing on the Gift" DVD to guests at the reception. Guests were able to make donations of cows, goats, chicks, sheep and llamas on Heifer International's online giving registry.
People can set up a registry through Heifer International's Web site for milestones such as weddings and anniversaries, and for just about any reason that they would like to ask someone to join them in supporting the organization's work.
Heifer's registry functions like popular retail gift registries, but instead of china and kitchen appliances, the selections include chickens, cows water buffaloes and other farm animals.
The symbolic gifts, while honoring registrants, go to support Heifer's efforts in the U.S. and around the world to help struggling families become self-reliant.