Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Plainsfeminist Guide to Holiday Giving, Part I

I wrestle every year with what to buy for my relatives. I have some who I don't really know all that well. I have some who already have everything money can buy. I have some who don't have hobbies or interests. And while I generally do believe that it's the thought that counts, I really like to be able to give people things they will like and can use.

With that in mind, here are a couple of ideas for people who are hard to shop for.

1) Charitable donations.
I have to say first that these are tricky because not everyone will be pleased at the idea that you are spending money on someone else as their Christmas present. In fact, I suggested this to a relative last year and she nearly disowned me. So choose this option at your own peril! However, if you decide to go through with it, here are my suggestions.

Darfur. I posted about this over Thanksgiving, so see that post for more information about why this is so terribly important.

Heifer International. What's neat about this is that instead of merely making a random donation, you have an idea of what your money is going toward. $500 will give a family a cow to provide them with milk and other dairy products - not to mention calves - for sale, barter, and their own nourishment. $20 can buy a flock of chicks: eggs, meat, and the money from the sale of same. If you're a vegetarian, $30 will pay for honeybees. If you're vegan, $60 will pay for a gift of trees ($10 will pay for a share of seedlings). The idea is to give families in poverty-stricken countries a way to be continually provided with food and a way to make a living (or, in the case of trees, to protect their environment).

Amnesty International. Thank God for Amnesty International. They are the ones we can count on to keep us informed about human rights violations, not just abroad, but in the U.S., as well (and, sadly, the U.S. has kept Amnesty busy lately). These are the people who defend the disappeared, the tortured, and the illegally detained.

The Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins. This one's kind of personal. A little over a year ago, ALS really wasn't on my radar screen. And then I learned that one of my friends with whom I had lost touch had been diagnosed with it some time earlier. She died last December. Then, a few months ago, the mother of a friend was diagnosed. At about the same time, the sister of a colleague was diagnosed, as well. So suddenly, ALS seems very present in my life. The good news is that there is a lot of new research that is helping to discover treatments - and perhaps, a cure. But they need our help to do it.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). If the person you are buying for is an animal lover, then PETA is an excellent choice, if a controversial one. I'm not a vegetarian and I do sometimes buy (though I try really hard not to) products that were tested on animals. Yet, I support their work. They have done a lot to safeguard the treatment of animals in all kinds of areas, from circuses to labs to pet stores to KFC's chicken plants. And they're anti-fur. Check 'em out.

2) Responsible purchases.
If you want to give something that is tangible but still socially responsible, I have two favorites.

The first is Marketplace: Handwork of India. I used to buy a lot of their clothes when I was a poor graduate student, but unfortunately for me, they quickly realized that these fashions held particular appeal for upscale American women, and they raised the prices accordingly. Now, I mostly just look at the catalog pictures (though their sale prices are quite good). But it's still a good cause, and I still like the fashions. Marketplace offers work to Indian artisans, teaching them the craft of making and designing clothes and giving women money and prestige in their communities. The catalogs contain letters from and information about the women who make the clothes, and they very often speak of being treated with more respect now that they are contributing to the family income.

Another is Ten Thousand Villages. TTV sells fairly-traded items. I don't know if this is true everywhere, but here, the store is staffed by volunteers. The money from the art, clothing, and jewelry is sent back to artisans. This allows them to be fairly paid for their work, but it also means that one can purchase beautiful, hand-made gifts at a fraction of what they would cost elsewhere. Definitely worth a look.

Part 2 to follow, and please add your own ideas in the comments section!

1 comment:

David Patterson said...

Thanks for the kind words about Heifer International. I joined Heifer as new media director last year and really appreciate it when someone blogs about us.

We have a new BlogRaising program that lets bloggers like you help us get the word out about Heifer and raise the money we need to do our work. To learn more, just go to

I hope you are able to take part.

Again thanks for the good words.