5 Kinds of Gifts that Give Back

Invest this holiday on gifts that keep on giving

If your family is anything like mine, you didn’t finish opening all the presents under the tree last year until close to dinnertime. It’s unbelievable the amount of toys, clothes, gadgets, jewelry and books that go under our trees. Despite the tough economy, the National Retail Federation is forecasting sales of more than $465 billion for the 2011 holiday retail season (an almost 3 percent increase over last year’s sales). Can you imagine what would happen if instead of that money being spent on electronic equipment and toys, it went toward helping the needy?

Don’t get me wrong — I like a nice organic cotton sweater as much as the next person. But one sweater (or a pair of cowboy boots, hint hint) is enough. And I don’t mind wrapping up a hoodie sweatshirt for my nephew, but I would like to make him understand that the holidays are not all about receiving as much stuff as possible. I especially want my young daughter to understand that not everyone in this world is as fortunate as her, and that giving to others can feel as good as getting (and sometimes even better).

With that in mind, at Gaiam we brainstormed five unique holiday gift ideas that you can feel good about giving, and the recipient can feel great about getting. Let’s put that $465 billion to good use.

1. Give a fishing pole

I don’t mean that literally. But you’ve heard the old proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Well instead of teaching someone to fish, how about giving him a fishing pole, in the form of a small micro-loan, so that he can earn a living for a lifetime? That’s the idea behind Kiva.org, a nonprofit micro-loan organization that matches lenders directly with entrepreneurs around the globe needing the funding assistance. Their mission is “to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.”

The beneficiary of the loan commits to paying the lender back in a certain period of time. Kiva gift certificates, starting at $25, make for great gifts. The recipient of the certificate can go to the website to choose which entrepreneur he wants to support. For example, he might choose to help Concepción Mamani of Bolivia raise the money she needs to buy materials for her rug-weaving business. Or fulfill Mouhamad from Lebanon’s request for $2,000 to update his barber shop. Your gift in turn is a gift to someone else.

You can purchase and print out a gift certificate in the amount of your choice on the Kiva website, or choose to have it e-mailed directly to the gift recipient.

2. Give a part of your gift

With the many companies that donate a portion of their proceeds to charitable causes these days, you can still buy your daughter those pants, your mom that shirt or your sister that lipstick while giving back.

Forget socks as stocking stuffers. Try Peacekeeper Cause-Metics, a line of natural nail polish, lipsticks, glosses and balms whose maker donates all after-tax profits to women’s health advocacy and human rights issues. Peacekeepers products have been given high marks by the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep report, and they offer free shipping on orders over $25.

Got a wild child? Bruz Wear makes durable and adorable pants for children 6 months to 6 years. The company was started by a mother whose son has hemophilia, and a portion of proceeds from all sales go to hemophilia research and support programs. Bruzwear pants come adorned with kneepads that protect crawling and active children from cuts and bruises.

Buying fair trade gifts — jewelry and accessories, clothing, home decor, personal care products, chocolate — helps artisans and farmers in developing countries earn livable wages while learning marketable skills, and even receive support with education, healthcare and child care. One remarkable fair trade organization, Hagar On Time in Cambodia, is doing all of this while giving women a path out of horrific circumstances including human trafficking and domestic violence. And fair trade shops including Gaiam's are brimming with unique presents you won’t find at Banana Republic or Nordstrom.

Also check out Rescue Chocolate, a vegan chocolate company that donates 100 percent of proceeds to animal rescue organizations (we love the Peanut Butter Pit Bull flavor!), and Giftback.com, where 10 percent of your purchase goes back to the charity of your choice. Or, for the fitness lover, shop Gaiam’s Go Pink! fitness DVDs — $1 from each purchase will be donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

3. Give your time, or stuff

For those of you a little short on cash this year, you can give a gift that gives back in a substantial way without spending a dime. Offer to donate your time, stuff or expertise to an organization of the recipient’s choice. Nonprofits like the Salvation Army and Goodwill gladly accept gently used clothing, furniture, household items and even airline miles or cars. Dress for Success, a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged women by providing professional attire and career advice, will take used clothing items off your hands and put them to good use. So instead of letting all that stuff take up room in your closet (or worse, throwing it in the landfill), give it away to charity.

Fresh out of stuff to give? Don a hardhat and safety goggles and bang some nails for Habitat for Humanity, if that charity appeals to your friend. For an animal lover, offer to walk dogs at your local animal shelter.

If the gift recipient is at a loss to pick a charity, steer her toward Volunteermatch.org for ideas. Accountants, marketing professionals and Web site designers are among the many areas of expertise that the nonprofit organizations on this Web site are looking for.

Use your computer to create a simple gift certificate, explaining what the gift is all about, or simply write it in a card. Be sure to follow up by sending the recipient a receipt or thank-you card from the organization to show her you made good on your gift.

4. Give green(backs)

Instead of spending $20, $50, $100 or more on a digital camera or an electric scooter, why not donate that cash to a worthy charity in a friend or family member’s name?

Denise Apple of Charlotte, N.C., buys Honor Gift Cards (cards that say a donation has been made in their “honor”), in $10 to $20 denominations from the Charlotte Free Health Clinic in lieu of Christmas gifts every year. “I do it because I don’t think adults really need little trinket-like gifts, but there are so many people I want to know that I’m thinking of them,” Apple says. “I get them from friends as well, and really appreciate it.”

Another cool gift idea is a Mercy Corps Gift from MercyCorps.com, an organization dedicated to assisting communities that are recovering from disaster, conflict or economic collapse. Each gift ranges in price ($16 to $3,000) and serves a different humanitarian purpose. The $100 Educate a Girl Gift, for example, helps pay for girls to go to school, giving them a better chance to succeed in life. And the $25 Clean Water Gift helps bring clean drinking water to some of the world’s poorest, most isolated areas.

Bring new meaning to “Peace on Earth” with a Peace Bond from Nonviolent Peaceforce. The bonds, which are available in increments from $10 to $500, help people in war-torn areas such as South Sudan, the Phillippines and Sri Lanka by enabling unarmed peacekeepers to go into conflict zones and protect vulnerable families. The bonds themselves feature inspirational artwork by artists from around the world.

Want more ideas? Check out include arborday.org, donorschoose.org and changingthepresent.org.

5. Give a goat

Or a cow. Or a flock of chickens. Giving a gift from Heifer International, an organization dedicated to ending hunger, is a far cry from the same old sweater or scarf. Started by a Midwestern farmer more than 60 years ago, the organization has helped over 8.5 million families in 125 countries by giving them the means to feed themselves, as opposed to depending on others.

For example, the namesake heifer at $500, or $50 for a share, can produce four gallons of milk a day — enough for a whole family and possibly some leftover to sell to others. And a goat for $120, or $10 a share, can produce up to a ton of milk a year — with extra milk that can be used to make cheese, butter or yogurt. You can choose from a variety of animals including a llama, a water buffalo, a pig, honeybees, and many more.

For the past three years, Kim and Paul Hresko have purchased a different animal every year to give to their whole family as stocking stuffer gifts. “You get so much stuff in your stocking that you don’t need like lip balm or nail clippers,” Kim says. “We wanted to help the children understand that it’s nice to help other people by giving, instead of getting.” She likes Heifer International because with the purchase of every animal, you get numerous note cards that can be used as the actual stocking stuffer, informing each family member of his or her gift.

Related links

Gaiam Gift Guide for Everyone on Your List

Gaiam.com 'Gifts that Give Back' shop

Gaiam’s Fair Trade Marketplace

More articles and videos in 'Giving Back'


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jessie31's picture
User offline. Last seen 6 years 13 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 04/26/2010

Your idea is amazing and quite catchy... I think I might join you...
It's not easy to deal with painful emotions head-on. But it's a key to good health and well-being physically, mentally and spiritually. If we don’t deal with pain when it occurs, it will resurface as compounded emotional toxicity later on — showing up as insomnia, hostility and anger or fear and anxiety.

As a further complication, if you don’t know how to deal with feelings of anger and fear, you're likely to turn them inward at yourself, believing, “It’s all my fault.” That guilt depletes our physical, emotional and spiritual energy until any initiative or movement feels impossible. We feel exhausted and paralyzed, leading to depression.

You can learn how to recognize painful emotions right away and how to effectively "metabolize" and eliminate pain.

Overcoming difficult emotions such as fear, anger, guilt and anxiety can bring the same disguised benefits that dealing with a physical illness can bring. Patients suffering from life-threatening illness often report that their diseases have taught them to love and value the other people in their lives more deeply than before they became ill. During recovery they learn to appreciate and understand areas of life that they took for granted before. While anger, fear and worry are not diseases, we can grow from them even as we process them to become the person we want to be.

By turning to our inherent intelligence, harmony and creativity, we can create a positive outcome; but if we are emotionally turbulent, we are too agitated to access that possibility.

Why meditation is part of this exercise

Through meditation we can experience our silent self beyond our thoughts and emotions. This is our internal reference point for equilibrium. From here we can create a desired outcome. To restore balance in our life, meditation must be an essential ingredient.

It is also important to support this with balanced activity in the basic areas of diet, exercise and sleep.

Assuming these fundamental balancing components are in place, I would offer an additional exercise to specifically address what to do in the face of intense anxiety and fear.

Learn how to metabolize pain with this seven-step exercise

Toxic, turbulent emotions have one cause - not knowing how to deal with pain. Pain is normal in life, but suffering isn’t. When we do not know how to deal with pain, we suffer.

1. Identify and locate the emotion physically

Set aside a few minutes when you won’t be disturbed. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. For a few minutes, just meditate in silence. Focus on your breathing - or if you prefer, you may use a mantra.

Now with eyes still closed, recall some circumstance in the recent past that was upsetting to you. It may be a time when you felt you were mistreated, an argument with your partner, or perhaps a past injustice at work. Identify some instance where you felt emotionally upset.

For the next 30 seconds, think in detail about that incident. Try to picture what actually happened as vividly as you can, as if you were reporting it for a newspaper. Here, you are the observer watching this event. You are not the event, argument or emotional upset; you are merely witnessing what is happening from the perspective of your silent self. You are carrying the effect of the meditation you just did, allowing you to maintain a vantage point that is not overshadowed by the quality of the emotions.

Now identify exactly what you are feeling. Put some word on the incident that describes what you are experiencing. Be as precise as you can. Do you feel unappreciated? Insulted? Treated unfairly? Give the feeling a name. Come up with a word that epitomizes the painful experience. Focus your attention on that word.

2. Witness the experience

Gradually allow your attention to move away from the word. Let your attention wander into your body. Become aware of the physical sensations that arise in your body as a result of the emotion you’ve identified.

These two elements - an idea in the mind and a physical sensation in the body - are what an emotion truly is, and they can’t really be separated. This is why we call it a feeling - because we feel emotions in our bodies.

Let your attention pass through your body as you’re recalling this experience. Locate the sensations the memory brings up. For many it’s a pressure in the chest or a sensation of tightness in the gut. Some feel it as pressure in their throat. Find where it is in your body that you’re feeling and holding the emotional experience.

3. Express the emotion

Now express that feeling. Place your hand on the part of your body where you sense that the feeling is located. Say it out loud: “It hurts here.” If you’re aware of more than one location for the pain, move your hand from place to place. At every location, pause for a moment and express what you’re feeling. Say, “It hurts here.”

When you experience physical discomfort, it means that something is unbalanced in your experience - physically, mentally or spiritually. Your body knows it - every cell in your body knows it. Befriend these sensations and their wisdom, because the pain is actually leading you to wholeness.

Writing your feelings out on paper is also a valuable way to express the emotion. This is especially effective when you can write out your painful experience in the first person, in the second person and finally from the perspective of a third person account.

4. Take responsibility

Be aware that any painful feelings you experience are your feelings. These feelings are happening inside your body now as you remember the pain, even though nothing is actually taking place in the material world. You’re only remembering what happened, yet your body is reacting with muscle contractions, hormonal secretions and other responses within you. Even when the painful incident was occurring in the material world, the effect was entirely within you. You have choice in how you interpret and respond to emotional turbulence. Recognizing this is taking responsibility for your feelings.

This doesn’t mean you feel guilty. Instead, it means you recognize your ability to respond to painful situations in new and creative ways. By taking responsibility for your feelings, you can also gain the power to make the pain melt away. You’re no longer blaming anyone else for having caused the pain, so you no longer have to depend on anyone else to make it go away. Hold that understanding in your consciousness for the next few moments.

5. Release the emotion

Place your attention on the part of your body where you’re holding the pain, and with every exhalation of your breath, have an intention of releasing that tension. For the next 30 seconds, just feel the painful sensation leaving your body with every breath. Some people find that making an audible tone that resonates in that part of your body where the pain is localized helps to loosen and lift the contraction away.

You can also experiment to discover what works best for you. For some people, singing or dancing does the trick. You may try deep breathing, using essential oils, or taking a long warm bath. Finally, if you have written out your emotions on paper, it can be helpful to ritually burn the paper and offer the ashes to the winds.

6. Share the outcome

Sharing the outcome of releasing your pain is important because it activates the new pattern of behavior after the old painful pattern is released. Imagine that you could speak to the person who was involved in that original painful incident. What would you say to that person now?

Bear in mind that he/she was not the real cause of your pain. The real cause was your response. In your transformed state, you are now free. So you can share what happened without blame, manipulation or seeking approval. Perhaps they intended to cause you pain, and you may have unwittingly collaborated in that intention. Maybe you would like to say you no longer intend to fall into such traps.

Whatever you say is totally up to you. As long as you have an awareness of the steps we’ve taken so far in this exercise, whatever you say will be right for you.

7. Celebrate the process

Now you can celebrate the painful experience that had taken place as the valuable material that helped you move to a higher level of consciousness. What was previously a disconnected, destructive and disabled part of your psyche is now integrated and contributing its power toward your greater spiritual goal. Instead of responding to the situation with a pain reflex, perpetuating the problem, you’ve turned it into an opportunity for spiritual transformation. That is something to celebrate! Go out for a nice dinner or buy yourself some flowers or a present to honor the new you.

Use this exercise whenever you feel upset, to free yourself from emotional turbulence and the underlying pain. When you do that, you’ll find that opportunities will arise more often in every area of your life.

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