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April 18, 2014
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Alternative gift giving: share the joy while doing good


Last year I gave my sister a goat for Christmas. The thing is that she doesn’t’ live in Wayne County; she lives in Baltimore, and she certainly can’t have a goat there. So it actually wasn’t for her. The goat went to a family in Kenya. However, it was a gift given in her name through Heifer International, and she received an email and a card with my warm wishes, a picture of a goat and a description of the program that helps to feed families and make them self-sufficient. (Heifer gives families at least a breeding pair and some training so they can start their own herd.) My sister loved it. She told all her friends and talked about it for months—as in, “I wonder what my goat’s doing now?”

Well, goats aren’t for everyone, but there are plenty of wonderful and unique gift options for almost everyone on your list. Some of these gifts may do some good in the world, and all of them really show that you put some thought into it and really care. Perhaps someone on your list would appreciate it if you adopt a polar bear or a giant panda for them through an organization like World Wildlife Fund. Others may like a goat like my sister got, or chickens, bees, llamas or many other animals through Heifer International. If these don’t appeal to the folks on your list, you can give a gift to the person’s favorite charity or any cause they’re concerned about. Almost every organization allows you to make a gift in someone’s name and then they send a card to the person telling them about the gift.

Homemade and handmade gifts by you are always nice. Baked goods are an old standby that are sure to please, and if people look forward to yours every year, then by all means keep doing it, but many people are overwhelmed by the temptations and calories during the holidays and may appreciate something they can use later in the year like barbeque sauce, flavored vinegar or even pickles (with a red bow on top, of course). Even non-edibles like bath salts or lip balm are fun and easy to make. Or you might want to consider purchasing a CSA share from a local farm. With a CSA, which stands for community supported agriculture, the farmer will then have produce available weekly for your loved one to pick up throughout the coming year’s growing season.

I’ve seen others make a calendar with photos from past family events or vacations that include a listing of everyone’s birthdays and other special family dates to remember. Other ideas along these lines include family photo albums, a memoir of a family trip, or a book of favorite family recipes. Several websites offer tools to help you make these, like blurb.com, iPhoto, or snapfish.com—or you could make your own. Instead of purchasing or making something, you can give “coupons” that your loved ones can redeem throughout the year. Good ideas are one date night a month with your spouse, planting and tending an herb garden when it warms up, eight hours of yard work, weekly visits along with reading favorite stories to someone who’s in a nursing home—you get the idea.

Certainly, if you feel you must purchase something, purchase something as local and as “green” as possible. Of course, green doesn’t just have to do with the manufacturing process and the content that went into making the product; hopefully the workers were treated well and the product has a long life span and can be recycled or re-purposed when your loved one is done using it. Two great resources for finding green products are National Green Pages (greenpages.org) and Conscious Consumer Shopping Guide on the Center for a New American Dream’s website (newdream.org).

Well, here’s wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season. And remember, you don’t have to go into debt or ignore your environmental conscience to show your loved ones how much you care. It truly is the thought that counts.

[Julie Hudson is a member of Transition Honesdale. This essay, which appeared last December in Transition Honesdale’s newsletter “On Track,” is reprinted here with permission.]