Friday, November 21, 2008

Shop Less, Give More

By Chris Olson, Outreach Coordinator

Deanna started a great topic. Alternative giving is one of my favorite subjects. The decision to give from the heart instead of from the department store is a change where I feel I have truly made a difference. In terms of individual action blossoming into a larger collective action, this is probably the most influential choice I have ever made. Three years ago I reached a tipping point where I felt overwhelmed as a young person by the pressure to A) buy meaningful gifts for family members while on a limited, student budget and B) come up with lists of things for people to buy me that I didn't actually need or want. The drive to follow the social norms of the holiday season stressed me out, depleted my limited funds, and filled my apartment and the houses of my loved with unnecessary clutter. Something needed to change. That's when I was introduced to the practice of alternative giving by a teacher in an environmental studies class. She had been donating to the Seva Foundation in the name of her family for years. "What a genius idea!", I thought. That semester I did some research and decided that I wanted to donate $50 in the name of the Olson Family to Seva for Christmas.

"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!"
~ from How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

I was nervous going into Christmas night. What if my family thought it was silly? What if they didn't think it was "enough" money for a real gift? I didn't get anyone anything else. Would they feel slighted? Unloved? To be honest, when they opened the single envelop under the tree that read "To the Olson Family, Love Chris" I don't think they knew how to react. A donation in the name of our family to help provide eye exams for impoverished populations in central Asia was not what they expected. I explained what it was I had given them and then about alternative giving. By the end of the evening each of them were excited and enthusiastic about the gift. The next year I donated a hive of honeybees and a flock of chicks to my family through Heifer International. This past year my brother's family gave a gift donation to a wind-power project and my sister's family donated to Heifer. In the next few weeks we are going to talk as a family and decided which organization we would like to donate to this year as an ENTIRE family and forgo all other gifts. This practice has also caught on with my cousins, aunts, and uncles who decided to skip the "stuff" this year and try alternative gifts. Less stress, less hassle, more intentionality, more meaning. Alternative giving has reshaped Christmas at my house and the ripple effect is beginning to shake the branches in the rest of our family "Christmas" tree (ho, ho, ho! Get it!).

Deanna provided a number of ideas of organizations to which to give this holiday season and to that I'm going to add a few more of my favorite:

Heifer International
Choose a meaningful gift to give a loved one and help children and families around the world receive training and animal gifts that help them become self-reliant.

Seva Foundation
Seva (say-va) is a Sanskrit word for service. Working in nine countries in addition to the United States, Seva Foundation supports projects in the area of health and wellness, community development, environmental protection and cultural preservation.

WIDECAST Sea Turtle Conservation in the Caribbean
The WIDECAST Latin American program mission is to improve the conservation status of the marine turtles in Costa Rica, with emphasis on the Caribbean region through research, political lobbying, planning, training, creation of socio-economic alternatives and public awareness.

Grounds for Change
Grounds for Change is a certified organic coffee roaster specializing in 100% Fair Trade Coffee. They roast Organic Fair Trade Coffee that is grown in shade conditions.

Fair Trade Chocolate
Lutheran World Relief supports the Fair Trade cocoa farmers of Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana through its of Divine Chocolate products — the first farmer-owned brand of chocolate in the world.

Other links:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Take a look at KIVA, they are one of the best ways to give that I have seen. Many people donate small amounts and the recipient/s pay the money back and the donator can simply donate it again.
A really great way to give and allow the recipient to maintain their dignity.