Emmy-winning actor and World Vision supporter Patricia Heaton — known as “America’s favorite mom” for her role on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond — has recently added producer and bestselling author to her list of accomplishments. Patricia is also a philanthropist dedicated to using her platform to equip the world’s most vulnerable children and families with resources to change their own lives. It’s part of why she’s featuring a handcrafted gift in the World Vision Gift Catalog for the fifth year in a row, giving people “a joyful opportunity to celebrate this holiday season with a gift from World Vision.”
“It’s funny to think that Christmas shopping could bring joy,” Patricia says. “A lot of times it’s a hassle, but what’s great about shopping through the World Vision Gift Catalog is it’s easy and you’re going to make a difference in a person’s life — whether it’s empowering them with an education, healthcare, or clean water, helping them start a business, and more.”
Patricia sat down with us recently to talk about Christmas traditions and her years-long partnership with World Vision.
What do you love most about the Christmas season?
It’s a time to celebrate our family. My four sons are grown and out of the house now, so it’s one of those times when everybody can get together. We play games around the table, and we give each other silly Christmas gifts at this point.
My favorite family holiday tradition comes from my husband, who is English — we do Christmas crackers around the table when we’re having Christmas dinner. They’re these cardboard tubes and they’re called crackers because the person next to you takes one end of yours, and you both pull and it makes a cracking sound. Inside is a paper crown, a little tiny gift, and a joke or a riddle. Everyone puts on these silly paper crowns, and we go around and ask our riddles or tell our jokes.
We’ve been doing it since before the boys were born, when we celebrated Christmas with Dave’s family. It’s an enduring tradition that we really love.
What are you looking forward to about the holiday season this year that perhaps you missed last year?
I love to try to be in snow at Christmastime. Because of the pandemic, we were stuck in Los Angeles last year. As much as the most important thing is being together as a family, it will be nice to go find some snow, to get that outdoor wintry feeling, with the fireplace and the hot chocolate and a long day of snowshoeing or skiing.
How does your faith influence how you approach the Christmas season?
As I get older and now that our boys are out of the house, Christmas is much less about giving gifts than it is about being together as a family. I focus more on my faith, on the meaning of Christmas and the story of Christ’s birth, because I’m not as busy with buying toys and Santa and all that wonderful stuff, which was really fun when the kids were little.
Sometimes those things do make you lose sight of why we’re celebrating. So, as life has calmed down a little bit, as the boys have gone on to lead their own lives as adults, I’ve been able to focus more on the stories and Scripture about this miracle that happened in our world. This has made Christmas much more meaningful.
What does it mean to you to choose joy this Christmas season?
Joy is something that you can choose regardless of the circumstances you’re in. As a Christian, knowing what the bigger picture is — what our lives are about and who is actually in control — made it easier to find those joyful moments during the difficulty of last year.
My faith undergirded my mental, emotional, and spiritual health, because we know that suffering is going to come in this life. Knowing that, while knowing that God is caring for us and God’s aware of our situation, allows me to find joy and comfort, even in small things. For me, joy is based in the knowledge that God cares for me.
How do you stay grounded in what matters most during the busyness of the holiday season?
Traveling with World Vision has given me a bigger perspective for what’s going on in the world. Getting to make friends all over the world, many of whom are in difficult situations, has helped to remind me what the Christmas season is about — that Jesus came for us and that He especially cares for the poor. It reminds me how privileged we are in America to have everything that we have. Material things are not as important, but so much of Christmas can revolve around materialism.
At a time of celebration and a time of exchanging gifts, World Vision and my work with them has always helped me remember people who are less fortunate. That helps to keep me grounded during the Christmas season, to keep my wits about me when it seems to get really busy with non-essential things.
What type of projects are you working on right now?
In light of a recent book I wrote, Your Second Act, I started a second — or maybe it’s my third — act, as a producer.
My husband, David Hunt, and I were almost finished with a feature film that we were shooting in Oklahoma; my husband was directing. We had to shut down with five days left because of the pandemic. We tried to go back in June, we tried to go back in August, we tried to go back in November, but we were put off and had to do some recasting. We were able to go back and finish it. So, it was rough, but it turned out beautifully. Recently, we’ve been working on post-production. We’re excited to birth this new child of ours and as soon as it’s all put together, I’m anxious to let everybody know about it.
How is working with World Vision your “second act”?
I’ve been acting now for about 30 years, and I love it. I feel very blessed that I’m able to make my living this way. But the example of my parents, growing up in a Catholic home, showed me that we need to take care of the poor. In our country we’re blessed with so much that so many others in the world don’t have.
I was looking for a program that I could use my platform to support, and after researching World Vision, I found that they were extremely transparent financially, and their programs are sustainable. World Vision will go into a project area, stay for an average of 15 years, and, when they leave, the local residents can continue the work without World Vision. That’s super important to me.
I wanted to be able to use my platform to equip people with clean water, to equip developing areas with maternal healthcare and childcare, to help girls avoid child marriage and empower women to start businesses so they can be partners with their spouses to support their family. I wanted others to join in and help empower children with an education, because I really believe that education is the way out of poverty.
And even though World Vision is a large nongovernmental organization and the leading provider of clean water in the developing world, no one who I talked to in Hollywood had ever heard of them. I thought that was a shame. And I thought perhaps I could use my platform to raise awareness and raise some money. I’m so thrilled that we’ve been able to do that since 2015, since I started the Celebrity Ambassador Program.
Tell me about your first trip with World Vision and about your sponsored child, Grace.
My first trip with World Vision was to Zambia, and I was fortunate enough to have my then-15-year-old son go with me.
I got to meet my sponsored child, Grace, who lives in a rural village, in a small, thatched hut. I got to bring her some gifts, spend some time with her and meet her family. Their generosity was quite humbling. The village has no electricity. They don’t have cars, and education can be hard to come by. Kids have to travel a long way. It was great to see the family’s circumstances firsthand. Even though their environment is worlds away from how we live in America, we’re all connected. It makes no difference what country you’re in, parents everywhere want the same thing: to see their children flourish.
And thanks to World Vision’s community-focused solutions, for every child you help, four more children benefit, too. It’s a way to help people with dignity, so they can change their own circumstances. It’s incredible that you can be a part of empowering someone on the other side of the world.
I’ve been privileged enough to experience that firsthand, and I want people who are thinking about contributing to World Vision or who already are to realize that it’s so meaningful to individual families. Even though it’s one person at a time, your support is making a world of difference.
In Zambia, we were sitting in a restaurant, and we had our World Vision shirts on. The waitress came up and looked at our shirts and she said, “Oh, World Vision — you’re the reason I was able to go to school. It’s so nice to see you here.”
I thought that moment, in such an intimate and personal way, was representative of what goes on thousands of times every day around the world because of World Vision and because of people who support World Vision. Anybody can be a part of it.
Why is it important to you to partner with World Vision?
I’ve chosen to partner with World Vision all these years now because I have done the research, and I know what a trustworthy and effective organization it is.
Especially after we’ve all come through with the pandemic, there were people around the world with far fewer resources to combat the pandemic than we had here. Imagine you don’t have running water or electricity. We were all worried about paper towels and toilet paper, but there are people who don’t have toilets, don’t have clean water, don’t have resources that we take for granted. Their recovery from the pandemic is going to take longer. World Vision is already working in all these places. They’re so effective in empowering people in these project areas out of poverty and equipping people with what they need to be healthy, especially with clean water.
This year, in particular, if you want to help people who have really suffered through the pandemic in a way we can’t even imagine, World Vision is an incredible place to put your money. They have a really high rate of return for your charitable investment. You can be assured that your hard-earned money is being used to help another person change their own life.
How has the World Vision Gift Catalog become part of your Christmas tradition?
Whether it’s your children, spouse, co-workers, or friends, every Christmas it’s more and more difficult to find another gift for that person you love who you’ve given so many things to over the years. The Gift Catalog is such an answer to prayer because in an afternoon, you can get all your Christmas shopping done with meaningful gifts.
We have wonderful gifts in the Gift Catalog that you can give to a family member — like the scarf I’m featuring. It’s 100% silk, made in Viet Nam by artisans in a village that’s been known for its silk production for hundreds of years. Or you can give gifts in honor of a family or friend to help people around the world through things like education, emergency relief, school supplies, or farm animals.
What do you love most about your handcrafted gift this year?
I love scarves — I have a ton of them! The one that I’m featuring in the catalog is made by these beautiful artisans in Viet Nam who make a sustainable living crafting silk scarves and other items. You can get this scarf for free for a $100 donation to the World Vision Fund. Your gift will be used to empower kids and families around the world, and you’ll get this beautiful scarf for yourself or for a loved one. There are lots of opportunities like this to get some wonderful gifts and get your Christmas shopping done and change a person’s life.
I love that this goes with a lot of different colors. And the silk makes it really elegant, but you can also wear it casually. I’m a big denim wearer, and I think these colors are great with denim.
What do you hope people think about when they wear your scarf?
Here’s what I love about getting a gift like my scarf from the Gift Catalog: Not only is it beautiful, but every time you wear it, you’ll be reminded that there’s somebody in the world — even if you never meet them in person — who you’ve helped. It can remind you that you used your resources to make someone else’s life better. We need that little shot of joy every day in our life.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length. Elisabeth Rickard of World Vision’s U.S. office contributed to this story.