It’s the time of year when traffic snarls, check-out lines explode to epic proportions, and shoppers channel characters from “Apocalypse Now.”

Ah, the angst of holiday shopping and the struggle behind the gifts.

But how about we shift gears for a moment and move past the traffic, the lines and the crazy shoppers to consider the true struggle behind the gifts.

Think about it like this: Have you ever sent a fruit and nut basket as a gift? It takes us about five minutes to order, but who performs the back-breaking work of harvesting the nuts? Who does the grueling dawn-to-dusk task of picking the fruit? If we look closely, we see that those who truly struggle are the Mexican and Central American farm workers who perform these demanding tasks - many under abusive conditions.

Let’s try another scenario. What if we send a fancy box with gourmet chocolate and coffee? Who bears the struggle behind a gift like this? Who harvests your cocoa beans? Who does the physically exhausting work of drying and roasting the coffee beans? That struggle is borne primarily by millions of West African children forced into labor, many into slave labor.

And these struggles aren’t just related to fruits, nuts, coffee and chocolate. Slave labor and abusive work conditions exist in the production of a wide array of holiday gifts, including toys, technology, textiles and fashion.

Since about 10 zillion Bible verses command us to help the oppressed, why not consider these four steps to satisfy our holiday giving at the same time we assist our brothers and sisters who bear the struggle.

They’re easy to remember because the first letters of the steps spell C-A-R-E.

C: Choose your gifts carefully

There are many merchants who exploit workers and children for their cheap labor, and there are many who don’t. In this age of the internet, it takes about three minutes to check a company’s record. For example, it took me about two and a half minutes to discover that LEGO recently signed a deal with UNICEF to promote children’s rights and eliminate child labor.

This information is easy to find. So, choose your gifts carefully.

A: Act

Why not donate to organizations that fight child slave labor or support migrant workers’ rights? For example, if you are considering a gift for a child, you could buy a LEGO present, then make a side contribution to UNICEF. If the child receiving the gift is old enough, include a note explaining why you did it. That way, your gift is a learning experience for the child receiving it and an outreach to lift up the children struggling behind it.

R: Report

Take 10 minutes out of your busy life to do a quick Google search about the reality of those who struggle behind your gifts. Educate yourself, then talk about it with your friends or share the information in your workplace. Reporting what we know about the plight of the oppressed is one of the most powerful ways to defend them.

E: Exercise your right to vote
The ex-governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, once suggested that we make all politicians wear NASCAR suits. If you’ve ever seen a NASCAR suit, you know that the sponsors are clearly displayed with the largest donors in the most prominent spots. Ventura suggested a NASCAR suit for politicians because, as he explained, “then we’ll know who owns them.”

When you vote, make sure that you know who owns your candidate. Is their largest contributor a company that is accused of using child labor or one that fights to alleviate it? When our voices come together on issues like this we can truly effect change.

This season give your gifts and give generously. But when you give, make sure that you C-A-R-E. Choose your gifts carefully, act to make a difference, report the issues and exercise your right to vote.

Remember those who bear the true struggle behind the gift. For as the greatest giver of all taught us, “What you do for the least of them, you do for me.”
A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of Laugh Your Way to Grace. Contact her through her email at revssparks@gmail.com, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.