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To: Santa's Worldwide Helpers Re: Your Recommended Charities. I want to use this space to correct a misimpression I may have left, quite inadvertently, with my young niece and nephew. Because I have a beard, and am so generally good-humored (except when the subject is politics), McKenzie asked me a couple of years ago if I was Santa Claus. No, I recall answering promptly, I am not. I am merely one of his vast network of assistants, assigned to collect Christmas wish-lists from designated children and--here's where I perhaps went too far--report to our headquarters at the North Pole on the all-important question, naughty or nice?

Since then, McKenzie and Branch have assumed that I'm in regular, direct contact with Santa, when the truth is I only occasionally talk to him or her, customarily relying on e-mails to exchange reports about behavior and sort the holiday deliveries. So there it is. I am not one of Santa's closest aides.

On the other hand, the beautiful dress McKenzie requested last year did arrive Christmas morning. And since she asked Santa for it confidentially and exclusively via her Uncle Bob and Aunt Pam, possibly as a test, it's clear that we are not without some influence at Yuletide.

Nor, obviously, without our rewards. "It's the most beautiful dress in the whole world!" McKenzie exclaimed when she saw it under the tree. Absolutely. McKenzie is very nice, so Santa had to search many workshops for a dress beautiful enough to suit her--or so I hear.

It's no wonder, then, that Branch, on seeing the trailer for Elf , said Will Ferrell is "just like Uncle Bob!" Branch called me some time ago wanting to register all of his friends' Christmas lists. I explained to him how Santa could not achieve such on-time, worldwide results without a systematic delegation of responsibilities, and that his friends' lists would be collected by other helpers.

Branch would like a trampoline with a net around it this Christmas, a gift I assured him will be considered at the highest levels as to its suitability and safety. (My news that he, like McKenzie, is on the nice list once again was received with a sigh of relief. "Because I haven't been that nice," he said.)

At least he didn't ask Santa for a BB-gun.

***

As much as Santa loves bringing toys to the children, however, there's concern at the top about the proliferation of "stuff" among adults in certain countries, especially our own. North Pole communications recently have emphasized that some people in the world are in real need, while others have so much they ought to be embarrassed.

Also, those who celebrate Christmas, Santa reminds us, will recall that Jesus ministered first, and pretty much exclusively, to the poor. He's reported to have said the meek will inherit the earth and the merciful receive mercy. Other religious traditions have similarly selfless and egalitarian principles, according to the Jolly One.

So what Santa suggests is that, instead of loading the sleigh down with excess goodies for people who already have a lot, we contribute money (or other gifts) to charity in their names, and ask them to do the same in our names.

Aunt Pam and I, and her family and mine, have been doing this for several years. In addition to the obvious advantages, it sure saves time, which helps Santa find that special dress for a child, and food for the poor, and which helps us really enjoy the holidays and remember why we're celebrating them.

Anyway, the latest email from Santa's people asks us down here at the grassroots to send along the names of local charities that do the best work for the needy. So, if you will write me a brief e-mail describing one such organization and why you're recommending it to others, I'll include as many as possible in "Citizen"--and forward all of your responses to the North Pole listserv for general dissemination.

Please put "My Christmas Charity" in the subject line and send your recommendation to rjgeary@aol.com.

***

Santa's EcoHelper: Apparently Sue Sturgis is also part of the network. Formerly a staff writer with the Independent, she's now editor and publisher of Raleigh Eco News, an online publication (at raleigheconews.com) that's an excellent source of information about state and area environmental subjects and features. The December issue, for example, discusses the threat sedimentation poses to Triangle water quality; also, the state constitutional amendment, up for referendum next year, that might be a way for big-box retailers to get public subsidies.

Sturgis says she started to address "complaints from environmentalists about difficulties getting their concerns covered in the media." She publishes monthly, and issues weekly bulletins, all free.

Raleigh Eco News suggests making the holidays a little greener by putting your gifts in reusable boxes or bags, planting your tree or at least composting it and--channeling Santa?--exchanging things that don't require wrapping, like "charitable donations in the recipients' honor." Sturgis also put together a list of eco-gifts you can buy from environmental organizations ("so your money gives twice")--like the Sierra Club's calendar, an Umstead Park T-shirt, or, if you're really ambitious, your own stretch of the Neuse River Foundation's "Adopt-the-Neuse" program to clean up. EndBlock

For the holidays, email rjgeary@aol.com with your charitable giving suggestion.. Thanks.

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