In keeping with my theme this year, I'm encouraging gifts of experiences and charitably-focused gifts both for my own family and for yours this holiday season. Hunger in the U.S. is at record high, and, with high unemployment this year, too, it's hard to find that extra bit to help someone in need -- and the fact of the matter is that that someone in need may be your own neighbor. There are tales in my town left and right of folks who lived high on the hog during the dot-com boom losing their homes right now. As in every year, but especially this year, when those Toys for Tots, Food Drive, and other solicitations come home from work, school, church, or wherever, I'm going to be giving until it feels good.
If you're looking for charitable giving ideas, here are some you might want to consider:
- Office gifts for any food cause: Instead of gifting each person that works for or with you, think about adopting a local food pantry, like Second Harvest Food Bank if you're in Silicon Valley; Second Harvest states on their site that they need "food, funds, and time." How about collecting food in-office, then having your holiday party there, sorting it? If you want to do something in-office as well that includes a personal holiday gift, you can hang stockings outside of offices/cubes and do a low-limit secret-Santa or host a Yankee swap or a White Elephant gift exchange with a cookies-and-milk party on a Friday afternoon. Maybe your holiday party is usually a free-flowing booze happy hour with passed hors d'oeuvres, but ask yourself: is this the year for that? Sorting food at the food bank together will create much better memories than what John from the copy room did after his fourth double-Scotch!
- Local food banks: Check CharityNavigator.Org to find a good one near you, and find out how you might give a donation in honor of a family. When I checked the site, I learned that California Emergency Foodlink in Sacramento received their highest rating for a Food Bank. It's not close to me, but, if it were, I'd love to give some of my time, effort, food, and money there, for I know that it's been thoroughly screened and proven to be a well-managed charity.
- Farm Aid: Farm aid's goal is to keep family farmers on their land. Having grown up on a family farm, I am deeply grateful for their work; and, as a purchaser of produce provided by family farms at my local farmer's market, supporting Farm Aid (as well as the farms directly) is a way to make sure that I'll still be shopping there a decade from now. A copy of the Food, Inc. movie and/or an earth-friendly cookbook, like The Earthbound Cook, along with a Farm Aid tee is a great gift for a friend or family member who values good produce.
- Christmas Seals from the American Lung Association: This year, I'll be sealing my holiday cards with these seals, as I have been fighting a lung illness for quite some time and, last week, received a diagnosis of a disease that falls under the American Lung Association's purview. If you know someone with lung issues, there's an online store that supports the lifesaving work of the ALA. If you're not comfortable donating money outright to a charitable cause, buying something from a cause's store is a subtle way to say, "I know, and I care."
- Gear from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure store: When I reviewed Hanes tees during breast cancer awareness month, I had no idea there was a whole on-line store devoted to fundraising for the fight against breast cancer. Knowing so many women touched by cancer either directly or through their mothers, sisters, friends, there are a whole lot of ways to show support for these folks -- but it can be awkward. It's tactless and tasteless to say, "Hey, I heard your sister's a cancer survivor, so here's a pink ribbon pen." But if you're looking for gifts for your office and don't want to give everyone yet another box of See's chocolates, what about designing a custom tee as a gift for everyone, giving money to the cause of breast cancer awareness, and organizing or attending a walk to fundraise for Susan G. Komen? I also love this "I Am the Cure" gear based on a rallying cry from the Race for the Cure; they're great gifts for ladies I know who run in those races every year.
- Office gifts for any health cause: Get your office fit and healthy by outfitting everyone with pedometers. (There are a bajillion at REI alone.) Have everyone name his/her favorite cause, and put it on a tracking white board (or just a peace of paper near the water cooler). If you're the boss, kick off the kitty with some money, and have a jar available for loose change. Donate each week or each month to the winner's cause -- the cause chosen by the person with the most steps. Or, choose a cause together, maybe a cause in support of an illness someone close to a coworker is fighting, and decide to make a donation when everyone has achieved a million steps. The pedometer's the gift, but there's an added bonus of health benefits and money for a cause. If you want to be the world's best boss, offer extra time at lunch on Fridays to buddy-walk!
- Habitat for Humanity: If your church group, office, knitting circle or other group hasn't done a Habitat outing yet, I can't encourage it enough. I participated in one a decade ago, and its memories linger. It's one thing to e-mail each other quarterlies or to sit in a pew and listen to teachings; it's another to swing a hammer and make someone's dream of home ownership come true. There are lots of ways to support Habitat, including an on-line store and resale outlets. Just think: if you're gifting someone who just bought a home, how about giving them some of these cool soup mugs with a note: "now that your dream of home ownership has come true, I'm honoring that by helping others achieve that goal through donating to Habitat in your name."
- The National Alliance to End Homelessness: Once, I was walking down the street with a friend's kid, and the kid complained about the odor and very presence of a homeless man on a bench nearby. This led to a great discussion about what we owe others as fellow human beings, including treating them without disdain. Homelessness is a growing issue in our town; if it is in yours, think about a donation for an "End Homelessness" tee, and read about some of the advocacy this top-rated (per Charity Navigator) group undertakes.
To be continued...
I wanted to get some ideas out there before Black Fridays doorbusters, as I think there are so many ways to gift this year without buying stuff that you can get on special at WalMart. It's important to shop to support the hurting economy, but it's also important to think about how we all might reallocate some of our shopping to offset the hurt: pets are often the greatest victims of recessions and of natural disasters, as are parks, wildlife conservation groups, and the arts. For more ideas, click here for Charity Navigator's Holiday Giving Guide, listing the best-rated (and the worst ... let's avoid those) around the world.
Wishing you festive holiday shopping, however you choose to do it. Next up: Part Two: Gifts of In-home Entertainment (Books, Movies, and Games)!
Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary Hanes tee as well as a copy of The Earthbound Cook for past reviews, the inclusion of these items in my gift guide is my choice and was not requested by the companies providing me with the items.
Cross-posted on Good Stuff Rox