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Gift ideas for the person who has very little


By CompiledStaff / December 24, 1998


The Christmas trees are trimmed and the midnight shoppers are trying to get the last bargains. But around America there are millions who have some rather unusual ways to spread the holiday spirit to those who are less fortunate.

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From knitting scarves for seafarers to donating Gucci suits to the homeless, the giving is limited only by the imagination. As more Americans are finding, all it takes is a good idea to attract volunteers and donors.

Last year, some 93 million people volunteered their time, and charities raised a record amount of money. "There are all kinds of courses out there, all kinds of different ideas," says Dan Langan, director of public information for the National Charities Information Bureau in New York.

Here are three particulary innovative ways that Americans are helping others this Christmas.

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NEW YORK - Barbara Bartell loves to knit. But everyone she knew around her home in Charlo, Mont., was already well supplied with woolens. So this year she's sending mulberry-colored vests, scarves, and hats to seafarers who will be on the high seas on Christmas Day.

"It's the neatest thing that they know there are people who care," says Mrs. Bartell, whose three daughters, learned how to knit for the project.

The Bartells are part of a group of 3,000 knitters - both men and women - who give the gift of their time and fingers to make sure seamen have some Christmas presents. Starting in early November, chaplains from the Seamen's Church Institute, which is affiliated with the Episcopal Church, take the gifts to ships in the New York area.

This year, the Institute expects to hand out about 14,000 gifts, which are usually stowed until Christmas Day. "For many of the seafarers, it's the only Christmas gift they get," says Barbara Clauson, director of the Christmas at Sea program for the Institute.

The formal program began at the turn of the century, when a socialite from an old New York family and a group of friends started the effort. Today, there is at least one knitter in every state. Female prisoners at a New York prison contribute. More than a dozen blind knitters volunteer. "There is a lot of dedication and affection for the program," says Ms. Clauson.

Starting in November, chaplains from the Seamen's Church start marching up boarding ramps in the harbors around New York. During a busy day, they visit as many as 30 ships. "Over the years we have established good relations, so we are welcomed on board," says the Rev. Christian Villagomeza.

With a light rain falling on a December day, the Rev. James Kollin and the Rev. Dilce de Paiva leave the Port Newark International Seafarers' Center in a Chevy Suburban to distribute the gifts.

Boarding the MSL Aurora, they find Capt. Michele Guarracino, who stops to talk them. On Christmas Day, he expects to be in the Caribbean on his way to ports in South America. The crew of 22 Italian and Serbian men will dine together and open the packages. Although they expect to get a few Christmas cards from relatives, Mr. Guarracino says, "These gifts will be the first and last."

And there is no doubt the men appreciate the goods. On board the Oleander, the cook, Vicente Mojica is already wearing his present, a knitted blue vest. "It makes me feel good that people care," he says.

- Ron Scherer

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