It is the perennial question as the holidays approach and the malls become jam-packed with shoppers: What do you get for the person on your Christmas/Hanukah/Winter Solstice/Festivus list who has everything? What do you get for your parents who have been consciously (and conspicuously) downsizing since you moved out? What do you get your fashionista friends who run out and buy what they want as soon as they realize they want it? What do you get those numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins whom you see but once a year, and, for the life of you, you can’t remember their hobbies or interests?
One solution is to try to do some good with your holiday spending. World Vision is a pioneer in this respect. They offer a Christmas catalogue featuring farm animals, like goats and cows, that you can give to a fledgling village in your or a gift recipient's name. The objective is to provide a family or whole village with the tools and resources to become self-sufficient.
If you know where your Great Aunt Gladys goes to church, many denominations have similar programs and groups that focus on Third World development. If you are determinedly secular in your outlook, there are also a lot of options. Save the Children has a list of gift suggestions, broken down by price on their website. International Justice Ministries is a non-partisan group founded in the wake of the Rwanda massacres. Its Canadian chapter is currently running a Give the Gift of Freedom Campaign.
If you want to give something tangible, but still want to be a good global citizen, consider Fair Trade goods. These types of programs buy from local farmers or artisans at a premium to help bolster their businesses or work in an environmentally sustainable matter. Sometimes the prices are reasonable by cutting out middle men/brokers, and other times you have to pay a premium. (But you can’t put a price on feeling good, can you?) In Toronto, the 10,000 Villages store, which sells Fair Trade wares made by Third World artisans, has three locations throughout the city.
If the environment is your cause, there are a number of opportunities here as well. The David Suzuki Foundation website has excellent resources for calculating and offsetting carbon use. Use your imagination! Several groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund, take donations for habitat preservation. By pooling money to purchase land in exotic locations or in Canada, they preserve it from clear-cutting and unsustainable development/nasty destruction.
CanadaHelps.org allows you to donate to 80,000 registered Canadian charities through one global site (if you want to support multiple charities for multiple gift recipients). You can browse by interest or search specific groups.
Whatever you do, practise smart giving. Check out organizations in advance (you can Google, can’t you?). Questions to ask include whether they stress long-term development or short-term relief, and how much they spend on administration. Information on Canadian registered charities is now publicly available through the Canadian Revenue Agencies Charities Directory website.