Today’s service challenge will be a little different than our usual weekly challenges. Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I am going to be taking a little blogging break. I’ll be checking in from time to time, but I’ll be taking the next week or so to spend time with my family. So this is a challenge that I hope you read today … and hopefully, one that you’ll keep in mind in the days ahead.

Using your holiday gift budget to change lives

If you’re like me, you’re already thinking about your Christmas shopping. There are some people on my list who are easy to shop for. Like my son. He was recently asked, “What do you want Santa to bring you?” His answer: “Just … anyfing. Anyfing he wants to bring me will be just gweat.”

Bless him.

But for others (particularly adults), shopping can be a bit harder. You likely have a few people on your list who don’t need anything, and perhaps don’t even have many wants that are unmet.

So here’s an idea: Don’t give them anything.

Give to someone who needs it, and give your gift in honor of your loved one.

Or give a gift … but buy something that will directly bless the life of the person who made it.

I love this idea for several reasons, but it boils down to this: you’re giving a gift that makes someone’s life better. In fact, you might be able to quite literally change someone’s life. That is pretty amazing.

I really love gifts (I enjoy receiving them, and I LOVE giving them)… but have you ever sat down to make your Christmas shopping list and just been tired of all of the STUFF? I sure have. So this year, as you’re preparing to shop, I’d like to encourage you to think outside the box a little and to look at Christmas shopping a different way. Let’s shop with purpose this year. Let’s let those dollars in our Christmas budget count.

There are many, many organizations out there that provide ways for you to “shop with purpose”. Today I’m going to share a few with you, and your weekly service challenge is simple: Take a few moments to think about how you can make a difference with your giving this Christmas. Here are some of my favorite ideas. They are all programs that I have personally been involved with in the past. I am not affiliated with them in any way, but I feed comfortable endorsing them. If there are any other programs you know of, I’d love to hear about them from you!

The Mercy House is a program in Kenya that provides a home to destitute, pregnant teenage girls. The young women that they take in are in absolutely desperate circumstances. This program is beautifully transforming. These young mothers are taught how to care for themselves and their babies. They’re fed – and they’re taught to cook. Their needs are met – and they’re given life skills and an education so that they will be able to provide for their children in the future. When you “shop mercy“, you are teaching a young mother that her work has value. You are providing for her immediate needs, and you are helping her set up a future for herself and for her baby. Take a look at the beautiful items that they sell. And if you have a bit more to give, consider this: they have a wish list. You can make a donation in honor of a loved one, and The Mercy House will send a card letting him or her know that they have been honored.

You know how much I love Compassion International and the work they do. This gift catalog is one of my favorite things! Think of your loved one, and what he or she is interested in. Then give a gift along those lines to someone in poverty. Is she in the medical field? Every $4 you donate can protect a child from parasites. Is he a teacher? Your $40 donation can help buy textbooks. Gardener? $38 can buy enough seeds to fight off malnutrition for a family. There are many, many options – and when you make your donation, be sure to click on “Honor Cards”. Compassion will mail or e-mail a card to your  recipient, letting him or her know about the donation that was made.

Similarly, a reader reminded me of the wonderful work that Heifer International does. They have a gift catalog as well, and you can choose from a wide variety of gifts (from sponsoring an animal to supporting sustainable farming). They also provide honor cards that you can send to your friend or family member, letting that person know what gift was donated in his or her honor.

A few weeks ago, I told you about the book Kisses from Katie. When I read that book, I was only about halfway through when I put it down and ran to my computer to do a frantic internet search. I wanted to be sure that Katie was doing okay, and I wanted to know if I could help. I can – and so can you. You can make a donation to one of her programs in honor of a loved one, and they will send an e-card to the recipient of your choice. Or you can shop in their store for your holiday gifts. I love this – much like the products The Mercy House sells, these items are giving work to mothers. It’s providing them an honest way to make money and giving them an opportunity to feed their babies. It’s hard for me to think of something that fills my heart with more joy than that.

Have you ever heard of Kiva? This is a company that provides microloans to people living in poverty. If your give a Kiva gift card, you allow your recipient the experience of choosing a person to lend their money to. They get to see names and faces, and they can find a story that they connect with. And then, as the loan is repaid, the money gets added back to their account – and when it’s fully repaid, they get to re-lend that money. It’s truly a gift that keeps giving.

If you have any women on your Christmas list that enjoy purses (or totes, or makeup bags), take a look at Freeset. This program is based in Kolkata, India. Many, many women in that city work as prostitutes simply because they do not see any other possibility other than these: sell their bodies, or go hungry (and watch their children starve). The Freeset factory provides a safe working environment for these women to work and to learn. You can read some of their stories here, – but you might want to have a Kleenex nearby. Here’s a bit of one woman’s story (warning, it’s not an easy read):

“My mother’s life as a sex worker was very hard, but she did it for us (my brother and I). There were customers in our room all the time which was hard. Because of this, it was difficult to study when I was young. I had to stay outside and play in the street with friends. It was really hard. When I got older it got even worse – many customers wanted me. That’s when I thought, If I could just grow up and get married I could get away from this, but my mother didn’t have enough money to give me in marriage. I couldn’t study because of the room situation and when I was home I had to help around the house so I couldn’t study even then – so I knew study wasn’t for me.”

PEOPLE. THIS IS REAL. This is happening in the world. Right now. And Freeset is helping women learn that life can be different than this. Let’s use our holiday money to help.

Finally, if you’d like to help on a local level, here are a few more ideas for you:

* If there is an angel tree in your town, choose one of the children on the tree to shop for. Take a picture of the gifts, wrap it up or put it in a card, and deliver it to your loved one. If you have a child on your Christmas list who already has tons of toys, here’s an idea: buy several things for an Angel Tree child. Buy one of those items for the child on your Christmas list. Wrap that small toy up with a picture of the items you donated and include a note saying something like – “I know that you have a sweet heart and that you love to share. So this Christmas, I shopped for another child who doesn’t have very many things. This is a picture of the gifts I got him/her. And here is a —–, just for you! Every time you play with it, you can remember that there’s another child somewhere in your city is playing with the same toy, who got to have a special Christmas because of YOU!”

* Along the same lines … if you’re shopping for an adult, you can give a token gift and attach a card explaining the donation you have made. To an amateur chef, wrap up a new spatula and attach a picture of the donation you made to the food pantry. To the fashionista, wrap up a scarf and take a picture of the warm coat you donated to a homeless shelter. Think of something your recipient might want … and connect it with something that someone else might need.

I hope I’ve given you a few ideas to think about. If you have any suggestions to share with me, please comment! Let’s take this time of year to give a little bit of extra thought to giving – even when we shop.


8 Comments on Shopping with Purpose: Using Your Holiday Gift Budget to Change Lives

  1. One year when I volunteered as a Sunday School teacher, a family made a donation to the church’s food pantry in my honor. I think it was picked because it was a community outreach for the church, but I liked the choice because in my “day job” as a newspaper reporter and columnist, my duties include writing about financial and family topics for those who are often, or at least occasionally, in need of such help.