Christmas Gift Exchange

This year, my family all agreed to give gifts to charity instead of to each other. We still drew names as we do each year, but we made gifts to non-profits in honor of each other. It was really great to not feel the usual pressure of the holiday shopping craze, to know that I won’t be the recipient of stuff I don’t need, and to give to something that will make a difference. To me this is truly celebrating the meaning of Christmas.

Everyone shared the inspiration for the charities they chose.

Aimee chose The Make-a-Wish Foundation with the following story:

The Make-a-Wish Foundation helps seriously ill children achieve dreams that would otherwise be impossible for them. Dream vacations, dream experiences, meeting the person they admire most, getting the toy/game their family never could afford, usually due to bills regarding the illness.

When I worked at the University of Minnesota in the ’80’s, I saw first-hand what wonder this organization can bring to an otherwise hopeless situation. Michael was 8 years old, and had had a relapse of his leukemia in spite of a bone marrow transplant. The Make-a-wish foundation sent Michael and his entire family (two siblings and his parents) for a week-long visit to Disney World and Epcott Center, ALL expenses paid. Everything. They had a blast, and the family was given exceptional memories of Michael doing what he’d wanted to do for a very long time. Michael died 2 months after they returned home. I will always carry this foundation in my heart.

Elizabeth supported a film about Lyme Disease:

In addition to giving to a local food shelf, we decided to send our annual holiday donation to the film, “Under Our Skin,” a spectacularly accurate and well done documentary about chronic, late-stage neuro-borreliosis (Lyme Disease). Particularly, it shows with great sensitivity how common the disease is, the depth of suffering it causes, how few people understand or know how to support their loved ones who are infected, and how difficult it is to get treatment. The film is in need of funds so that it can be finished.

Amy Tan said, “I now know the greatest harm borrelia has caused. It is ignorance.” At this point in time, sadly, the best way to fight the disease is to fight the ignorance. This film will do that.
Elizabeth is blogging about her personal experience with Lyme Disease, which will tell you more about her motivation for her gift to the film. It’s truly inspiring.
Margaret made a gift in Peter’s honor:

I know how much he likes books and reading because he is a librarian and all. Sarah [her daughter] helped me find a charity in Africa that builds and promotes reading in small towns in Africa. It is called African library project. Now his joy of books and reading is being shared with those in Africa also

David used a web tool to help him find a charity that appealed to him:

This was really a cool way to celebrate Christmas. And it’s true, there are so many great charities out there it was really hard to decide which one to give to.

Being new to this (Although we give to local charities every year) I found a great site which finally led me to the one I ultimately chose.’s supposedly the largest charity evaluator on the internet and was very helpful in locating the charity about which I felt the strongest. They have charts which display how they spend their money, their reputations, etc. It’s awesome.

I finally chose The Global Fund for Women. Here is what their web site says: “The Global Fund for Women is an international network of women and men committed to a world of equality and social justice. We advocate for and defend women’s human rights by making grants to support women’s groups around the world.” Check it out – it’s not only an amazing organization but their web site is a model of design and communication.

David’s wife, Amy chose Best Friends Animal Society to honor Margaret:

When David and I moved into our apartment, there was a cat living in the parking garage. A cat had come in there to have her kittens, and some of the children in the building were petting one of the kittens when it was too soon. The mother cat rejected her kitten, so she lived in our parking garage. I called her Sweetie Pie. She was a lovely, though mostly feral, cat. But she desperately wanted to be a lap cat (as they all secretly do).

Despite my landlords warnings, I fed and watered her continually. The care and feeding of this cat became my one-woman-against-the-man mission.

I first became involved with Best Friends when I was looking for a humane place to relocate her. Feral cats are notoriously hard to relocate, and Sweetie Pie deserved better than to be put to sleep because some well meaning children gave her a pet when it was too soon. Best Friends Animal society believes the same. They are an organization dedicated to the humane treatment of all animals.

Best Friends Animal Society has airlifted animals out of New Orleans during Katrina, they are taking care of Michael Vick’s fighting dogs, they rescue dogs from puppy mills and cat collectors, they help internationally with animal rescue operations, they are active politically to ensure humane treatment of animals, and do all sorts of wonderful things for our furry (or feathery, or scaly) friends on the planet who are in trouble or in need.

I love these people. Truly. You can also watch their new show on the National Geographic Channel – Dogtown. The donation made in Margaret’s name will help care for animals at one of their various sanctuaries.

And, honestly, the notion of someone saying ‘Hey Sparky, you’ve just had your balls snipped thanks to the generosity of Margaret’ kinda made me giggle.

Sarah, my niece, had the following to say.

Invisible Children Inc. is an organization that began as a journey. Three young men and a video camera went to Africa in search of a story. They ended up in Uganda, where they met children, who are both the weapon and the victim of this story. These children are caught in the middle of a war being waged by the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Many of these children run away from home at night to seek sanctuary in the hospitals, miles from their homes. What are they running from? The LRA kidnaps kids and transforms them (physically and mentally) into child-soldiers. The Ugandan government has attempted to protect its civilians by relocating thousands to camps. But these camps are over-crowded, impoverished, and disease ridden.

The three young men created a documentary called “Invisible Children: Rough Cut,” which has been viewed by millions. The overall response to this documentary has been concern and compassion. They began this organization so that the people who are moved by the plight of these children can make a difference. The money that they raise go to fund highly researched development projects that address the need for education, mentorships, the redevelopment of schools, resettlement from the camps and financial stability within the Ugandan community. This partnership between Invisible Children Inc. and the Ugandan community focuses on long-term goals that enable children to take responsibility for their own future an the future of their country. You can visit their website AND store (Totally cool! Check out the bracelet campaign!) at this website.

Dad and Mary had the following to say:

The charity that Mary Elise and I chose is known as Jeedovaya, Center of Hope. I scanned in the article that describes how the sisters of St. Joseph of Baden Pennsylvania have developed shelters for boys in railway stations in India which have become centers where they are safe, their lives are stabilized and they become trained for jobs. They essentially are rescued.

These shelters have worked well for boys, ages 4 to 14. Now the sisters are about to establish a center for young girls which is am even more difficult task. This is what we contributed to.

Gillian chose a subscription to Slow FoodUSA for Dad. This organization supports food justice in many different ways. Through its educational programs, Slow Food promotes the consumption of fresh foods, embraces food traditions, supports local economies and environmental sustainability, and promotes human health and nutrition. This is a deliberate movement away from the culture of consumption that is destroying our health, our cultural traditions, and our planet. Being a member of Slow Food connects you to people in your community who are helping to build the slow food movement.

I chose Heifer International whose aim is to end world hunger. Their mission is to help people in poverty find and create a sustainable source of food. I chose to put my donation toward purchasing a heifer (you can choose other animals and gifts, too). The idea is to give a gift that will benefit the entire community. The livestock produce milk, eggs, fleece, manure for the fields, and offspring. They work in impoverished communities all over the world, offering culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable education to people so that they can produce food for their communities and support local economies.
I’ve known about Heifer International for years, but they came to mind recently when Gillian and I were looking for housing here in Chicago. We drove by the local offices one day, and I got all excited, so they’ve been on my mind for a while. When it came time for the gift exchange, I just knew that’s where I wanted to give. Gillian and I are trying to live more greenly, which in every way makes you realize how connected you are to the world around you, whether its just outside your door or across the world. Living out the principals of environmentalism, sustainability, and supporting our local community, while also recognizing our incredibly privileged place in the world inspired me to make a gift that would support a community in another part of the world where people are trying to do the same thing.
So, these are our stories. I was so excited when everyone agreed to this gift exchange, and then started sharing their inspirations. I just knew I had to share them here. I feel grateful for my family’s generosity in a whole new way, and I love this way of exhanging gifts and honoring each other.

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