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Tuesday 13 December 2011

Gifts For The Needless

"Everything is better in Gears of War 3... Four player co-op, new multiplayer modes, bajillions of unlockables, retrolancers, stuff that blows up, and perfect controls make this a top pick for the holiday season." - Metro News, Nov 25-27 2011, written with no apparent sense of irony.

Last week I posted some survival strategies for the holidays, and I mentioned that one of the biggest stresses for some people is trying to decide what to get for the person who has everything they need.
How about giving a mountain?

People often tell me they like the parties, the dinners, the decorations, and even the weather at Christmas. They just don’t like the shopping. They don’t know what to get, the people on their list don’t really need anything, and they’re uncomfortably aware of the discrepancy between the supposed point of Christmas and what it has become. We are one of the wealthiest societies the planet has ever known. The last thing most of us need is more stuff.

So stop buying people objects they do not need or, in most cases, want.

“Oh, but I have to give them something,” you say.

Fine. Give them eye surgery.

Not on them. On someone who needs it.

It’s possible to give great gifts to people who already have everything. Because the one thing they don’t have is a world in which others aren’t suffering.

What if you could give someone an HIV clinic, or an urban greenbelt, or a passport for a border-crossing bear, or eye exams for an entire village, or an acre of Canadian habitat, or an elementary school education, or a microfinance bank? Wouldn’t that be better than yet another sweater they won’t wear?

An increasing number of people are taking the opportunity of Christmas to give gifts that fit with their values and that have greater meaning than a new cordless drill.

Here are just a few suggestions. Your values and preferences may vary, so investigate your favourite organizations to see what they offer.

The Nature Conservancy

When you give a gift they send the recipient a calendar and certificate.  For $40 you can give a gift representing an acre of habitat. Larger donations represent habitat areas for more wide-roaming species ranging from owls ($55) to caribou ($400). You can also give any amount of money to support the activities of the Conservancy.

Trans-Himalayan Aid Society

TRAS, a local Vancouver charity, funds projects in India, Nepal, and Tibet, including child education sponsorships at a variety of schools in the region.

Seva Canada

SEVA focuses on the prevention and cure of blindness in the third world. They conduct educational, preventive, and surgical programs to deal with treatable blindness (the most common cause of which is cataract).  For $25 you can provide eye exams for 25 children, for $50 you can pay for cataract surgery, and for $150 you can pay for eye surgery for a child.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation

SLF supports community-level organizations focused on HIV/AIDS in Africa by providing care and support to women, orphans, grandmothers, and people living with HIV/AIDS.  Stephen Lewis is the former Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa for the United Nations.  You can gifts of any amount and you can order Christmas cards from the organization.

David Suzuki Foundation

An environmental organization, DSF engages in scientific, educational, and advocacy related activities to highlight a wide variety of issues.  This year they have a tongue-in-cheek set of symbolic gifts based on the idea that the North Pole (site of a certain workshop) is melting. You can buy water wings for reindeer ($20), elf-sized hockey sticks ($20), an abominable snowmaker ($50), and a variety of e-Cards (ranging from Critter Passports to Green Belts) that help fund the organization’s activities.


You’ve heard about microcredit in developing countries. You may not know that you can be a microcredit bank yourself. Kiva allows you to deposit money with them, and then issue loans of $25 or more to projects and individuals of your own choosing. You look through the photographs and stories of people seeking funding, and simply click to loan a specific amount to the projects you want to support. Kiva sends you updates on the repayment of these loans. When your loan is repaid, you can lend the money to another project. This is a perpetual gift that allows you to help any number of people over time.

Canada Helps

Want to contribute to a group not on the list? The website makes it easy to contribute to any registered charity in Canada. You can browse the available charities and donate right on the site. You can also create your own “Cause Wish List” that others can look at when they want to give you a gift – kind of like a wedding registry.

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Don’t like any of these options? No problem. They’re just examples. There are thousands of ways of giving gifts to those who have no real needs – gifts that can benefit people and causes that fit with your values and those of your recipient.

What easier last-minute gift can you think of?

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