NEW YORK - Buy a sheep, "adopt" a soldier or name a piece of rainforest.
There are lots of ways to honor loved ones for the holidays with gifts through charitable-minded naming and adoption programs.
Heifer International's catalog at heifer.org offers shoppers a unique way to make giving more meaningful by buying cows, goats, sheep, llamas, water buffalos, bees, trees and more to benefit people in need around the world. A card of explanation goes to the giftee.
The National Wildlife Federation has an adopt-an-animal program. The adoptions are symbolic and represent a general donation to the cause but do include certificates and small tokens of appreciation, such as a stuffed animal, depending on the amount spent.
An array of endangered species are covered, from sea turtles to baby pandas. Order online at nwf.org.
Or try one of these lesser known programs:
Cuipo, a preservation organization based in Newport Beach, Calif., has purchased swaths of Panama rainforest and allows supporters through its One Meter at a Time Foundation to help foot the bill. Pay $5 to $100 at Cuipo.org for various amounts of land or purchase gifts that come with codes on their tags where a meter of rainforest can be named through the website. New partner Sigg, the water bottle people, are offering Cuipo-branded bottles with the codes on tags for naming. The bottles are available for purchase at Whole Foods markets around the country.
At adoptaclassroom.org, make a generation donation to benefit schools damaged by superstorm Sandy. The site promises 100 percent of donations will go directly to teachers for their students. A donor selects a classroom from hundreds registered by teachers to contribute by region of the country, school name, teacher name and other search criteria. If a donor has no preference, Adopt-A-Classroom partners the donor with an underserved classroom in their community.
Lots of organizations ar-range for holiday care packages shipped to active duty servicepeople. At the nonprofit adoptaussoldier.org, the experience goes deeper. The site "assigns" a U.S. soldier serving in one of more than 128 countries to send care packages and write letters to. Soldiers sign up to participate. Details of the soldier you're matched with arrive via email, easy to gift to a charitable-minded person on your list.
While some animal adoptions are symbolic, without a specific animal to bring the experience to life for children, the Pacific Whale Foundation in Maui, Hawaii, offers the personal story of a specific dolphin or whale. And kids gifted a turtle get to name one! It means a lot to young recipients who might not be so jazzed by a more general donation made in lieu of a holiday gift in his or her name. Adoption packages range from $25 to $75 and offer downloadable adoption certificates and plush animal toys in the higher range. Go to pacificwhale.org.