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December 13, 2006

Gift Ideas: Blessings Squared

Box I am a strange creature. I love, love, love, picking out presents for people. Did I mention I love picking out presents for people? Now don't get me wrong. I'm not so gleeful when it comes to paying for them, mostly because non-profit work doesn't exactly leave one rolling in the green, but still, I adore finding just the right gift that will be meaningful and appreciated and seeing someone's face when they open it. This year my holiday shopping has gotten even brighter as I've discovered ways to spread that joy not just to the recipient, but also to the gift-creators. If you are scratching your head for ideas, let me share a few suggestions that you can feel good about in both the purchasing and giving!!!

  • Covenant House is a Christian group committed to serving at-risk youth and children, homeless and the poor of Southeast Washington, DC. If you want to be inspired, read their mission statement! As part of their work with at-risk kids and adults they have an artisan program where they teach these young adults a marketable skill, woodcrafting, and here they make some amazing hand-crafted wooden gifts. I saw these first-hand a few weeks ago, and they are truly beautiful, not like the popsicle stick creations I used to take home to mom and dad and that they had to feign liking. Nope, these are the real deal. My favorite is the High Hopes Box.
  • Similarly, Make Peace "provides paths back to productivity, creativity, and living wages for low-income women in the Washington DC area.  [They] train [their] artisans in life skills, business basics, and how to create and market one-of-a-kind, handmade jewelry." Again, I had the chance to handle these and there are some gorgeous items. I really liked the Rose Quartz necklace and the Art Glass Lariat.
  • If you're looking for more jewelry, also check out Wonderfully Made Jewelry. This group isNecklace dedicated to helping victims of sex-trafficking find an alternate sustainable source of income. Each piece of jewelry represents hope to the one creating it. And they are also great "discussion piece products that tell a story of hope." The jewelry is both exotic and beautiful. I'm a big fan of the Waterfall Necklace and the classically elegant five-stranded pearl necklace.
  • Ten Thousand Villages is a founding member of the International Fair Trade Association and is part of a world-wide movement aimed at improving the livelihood of disadvantaged peoples around the world. They have so many unique (in the good sense of that word!) and vibrant gifts. Their website is also easy to navigate, with gifts under $25, stocking-stuffers, gifts for the entertainer in the family, and gifts for him (check out the sweet bamboo lounge chair!) and her. When I got to look at these, as a writer I was drawn toArtisan the hand-made journals. I'm sure it has only been for lack of one of these that I haven't yet penned my Pulitzer-prize winning novel.
  • All of us know a few people addicted to a good cup of coffee. Kim Moreland blogged on Land of a Thousand Hills coffee a  few days ago. I bought several bags of this last year for Christmas, and my extended family consumed it before we even got to New Year's. So I can vouch both for its being good and for the money's going to a great cause, restoration in Rwanda. Another great organization selling coffee is Growers First who "helps equip isolated indigenous family farmers to undertake long-term economic and community development." I bought a bag of coffee for someone on my list this year from them (but shhh, don't tell because I haven't given it yet!) Opt for a caffeinated gift that will go to help some people who need it a lot more than our friends at Starbucks.
  • I have saved the best for last. By far my favorite of these gift-giving ideas is Amani Ya Juu, which means Higher Peace. My good friend Rachel Kistner is the coordinator on the U.S. side of this African-based operation. The organization helps women from countries all over Africa:Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Many of these women are widows of genocide or war. You can read all about their wonderful organization here. Once you're done reading though, check out their beautiful, colorful line of products. I've bought several of their handbags as gifts (including one for my Secret Santa at the officeBag party--shhhhh!) and they are always well-beloved by their owners. My mom (a kindergarten teacher) fell in love with the puppets and bought several for her classroom. I don't see those listed online, but I do see a fun Noah's Ark set. The aprons and serving utensils were also a big hit last year as well. My friend, Rachel, graduated from Wheaton and is an extremely talented artist. She's done a lot of the design work on many of these stunning products.

All right, if I haven't given you enough ideas, here's one more. This Christmas my church held a Peace Bazaar with most of these organizations represented. We are only a few blocks from the Eastern Market area in DC so we had shoppers wafting in from the sidewalks. Many of them purchased gifts whose proceeds go to these great causes. Moreover, it was a wonderful chance to demonstrate to the community Christian concern for the least of these and to engage people in conversation. Anyhow, if you're a resourceful kind of person, you might tuck the idea away for next year and host a similar event at your church or in your community. What a great way to spread Christmas cheer to both the gift-creator and the recipient.

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Dennis Babish

Another idea is go to the Samaritan's Purse website and look at their catalog. It is quite different. Instead of receiving something for yourself you can pick an item, such as a dozen baby chicks, pay for it and they give it to a needy family somewhere in the world. I decided to do this with my grandchildren, trying to teach them to think of others and not just themselves. So I told them one of their gifts from us would be an item from this catalog and explained what it meant. All 3 of them were interested, I gave them their options, they each put alot of thought into it and came up with excellent choices. I plan on doing this with them every year.


Another similar idea is International Aid: http://www.internationalaid.org/gifts.php

Gina Dalfonzo

Also Heifer International (which I believe I first heard about via James Lileks) at http://www.heifer.org/ .

Thanks for the great suggestions, everyone! Keep sending them!

John R Warner

Nice to have these practical ideas
Thank you for sharing them with us
Keep coming with more ideas. We can do
bnetter than the stores by being creative and using the talens God has given us
Joh R Warner

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