Gifts That Keep On Giving
By: Samara O'Shea
Remember when there was more stress on the receiving end of presents—how will I find time to play with all of these toys—than on the giving end? Unfortunately, those days are gone; as an adult, a big chunk of holiday tension comes from figuring out what gifts to give. Sure, there's the run–of–the–mill sweater for mom, tie for dad, and gift certificate for Uncle Gerry (who is always difficult to shop for). But what do these gifts really say other than, I couldn't think of anything else to get you?
Luckily there is a positive trend in gift giving that may be just the right cure for holiday–shopping anxiety. I first noticed the upward movement at a wedding two summers ago. In lieu of little gifts for each guest, the bride and groom left a note on every table saying they had donated money to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund—a charity set up in honor of the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting (the fund has since closed). Reading that touched my heart and affected me more than any sweet–smelling bottle of lotion or fountain pen with the wedding date emblazoned on it would have.
Since then, similar gestures keep popping up. I've seen philanthropy–inspired gifts given at other weddings and birthdays, and the practice is appropriately making its way into the holiday season. The universal theme that circles around every December—regardless of one's religion or spiritual practice—is to put others before yourself. And what better way to do that than to give gifts to the people you love that benefit the people you know need help? Charity gifts tug the heartstrings. You can't always hold them, but you can feel them, which means they stand a chance of living in your memory longer.
There are several ways to give a gift that gives back. You can donate money or time to an organization in someone's name, purchase a gift from an outlet that does the donating for you, buy from a company that employs underprivileged people (and pays them appropriately), or set out on a special vacation planned with a few days of volunteering in the package. Searching for the perfect charitable gift is much more enjoyable than standing in line at Macy's, as the work can be done online, and through the research process you get to learn all about organizations that are trying to change the world. Undoubtedly, the best part of giving these gifts is the message that you send to the receiver: You've inspired me to be a better person.
Stocking Stuffers and Small Gifts
For the extra–special people in your life there are usually some small gifts to accompany the big ones—provided there's no coal this year. Rest assured that good will toward men has infected just about every industry, and this makes for some unique and socially sound stocking stuffers.
Jewelry: At Greener Country (greenercountry.com) you'll find Rainforest Support Jewelry, a line that celebrates diversity and provides economic incentives to protect the rain forests in Costa Rica. You can shop for other selfless accessories at Lucina (lucinajewelry.com), which works with fair–trade importers to open up new markets for ethically sourced gems, silver, and handcrafted materials.
Flowers: Okay, so they can't fit in a stocking, but they're great to send if you don't live close enough to get under someone's Christmas tree. Organic Bouquet (organicbouquet.com) offers sustainable fresh flowers, and you can also send a charitable bouquet and 10 percent of the sale will go to one of 57 partner nonprofit organizations such as The Nature Conservatory (nature.org), Oceana (oceana.org), and Keep American Beautiful (kab.org).
Beauty Products: From skin care to shampoo, Eden Organix (edenorganix.com) serves all outer– beauty needs and, impressively, some inner–beauty needs by donating 10 percent of proceeds to causes devoted to helping improve the environment as well as women and children in need. In another part of cyberspace, Cargo cosmetics has created an eco–friendly line of lipsticks called Plant Love (cargocosmetics.com/plantlove.html). These lipsticks come in a compostable lipstick case made from corn, and $2 from every sale is donated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Footwear: The dead of winter is an odd time to be thinking about sandals (though you may need them for your voluntourism trip), but summer always comes back around. The do–gooders at Eco Sandals (ecosandals.com) have created a savvy line of sandals. The e–business, based in one of Nairobi's most destitute neighborhoods, currently employs nearly 30 Kenyans in the designing, manufacturing, marketing, and selling of sandals made with recycled tire treads. Meanwhile, over at Simple Shoes (simpleshoes.com), everything from sneakers to slippers are made from sustainable materials such as hemp, organic cotton, and bamboo.