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Have a Heart

Mercy Kits let you bring relief to the poor in developing countries

Spencer Ehrman and his wife, Hilde Wette, know what it’s like to see water everywhere. They live in Portland, Ore., where the Willamette and Columbia rivers meet and the rainy season lasts six months.

Last year, the couple decided to share their abundance with communities where clean water is scarce. For $1,000, they purchased the Well Kit, one of about 20 so-called Mercy Kits offered by Mercy Corps, an Oregon-based charity ( that operates in 35 countries. The Well Kit helps sponsors build wells and develop sources of clean water, among other projects.

The couple received gift cards that they used to let recipients know that a donation had been made on their behalf. "We gave the cards to our families with a little note saying that this is what we've done this holiday season, as opposed to buying socks or ties or another wool scarf," says Ehrman. "Everybody got the well."

Other choices include the Pig Kit ($190), the Children's Food Kit ($20) and the Children's Playground Kit ($400). In most cases, the money goes into a general fund that supports all the programs, rather than toward the purchase of a particular pig, well or playground. That flexibility "allows us to respond to needs that arise immediately," says Caitlin Carlson, a Mercy Corps spokeswoman.


The Well Kit delivered another benefit, says Ehrman: "We weren't spending weekend after weekend at the mall or downtown. We were done." Family members liked the idea so much that Ehrman and Wette expect to find a few kits, or cards, under their own tree this year.

BACK TO: What a $1,000 Can Do in 2008