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Women's Voices Puts Justice into Giving

  This booklet, a compilation of stories from members and friends, is a delightful look at our attempts to counter the pervasive consumer-driven culture that surrounds gift-giving and the holidays. We hope you learn from these stories, as we did, and will be inspired to create your own traditions.

For your convenience, the underlined organizations in the stories are collected in an Appendix at the end of this page, with web sites and brief descriptions.
Judy Arnold In my family, we now give gifts only to children under 16; the adults no longer exchange gifts. I rarely use new wrapping; I use recycled gift wrap, tissue, ribbon, and gift bags. I often use a store's bag if it is attractive. Sometimes I use free, natural items, such as pine cones, to embellish a wrapping. (I also use natural things I've found in the woods for decorating the house.) For a very large item, I'll just put a bow on the item rather than using yards of gift wrap, or I'll use a trash bag as wrapping - not too bad with a big bow.

My book club has decided to stop buying each other little gifts and instead donate money to a worthy cause.
Diane Asser "What goes around, comes around." We decided to take that adage to heart and try to aim some of what comes around in the direction we want it to go.

At a fundraiser auction, we placed the winning bid on a cocktail party for 50 friends at a local historic home. We used the event to celebrate our wedding anniversary, asking that our guests bring a charitable donation instead of any gift that they might otherwise bring. The donations went to Youth in Need, the nonprofit organization that auctioned the event in the first place.

No fuel was wasted going to the mall, no wrapping paper to buy or re-use, no accumulation of material things to keep at home. Most importantly this approach resulted in a great time with family and friends and further benefited those served by Youth in Need.
Laurie Bergman My six college friends and I have a 20-year tradition of getting together each holiday season for a celebratory "Girlfriends" luncheon. We have all enjoyed taking turns playing hostess and cooking wonderful meals to honor our friends. During especially stressful times, we've had no qualms about going to an atmospheric, mid-priced restaurant to celebrate. Rather than splurging on elaborate gifts for everyone, we have alternated among:
  • drawing names and buying ($20 or less) or making a gift especially for that person
  • buying or making small ornaments for each member of the group (popular during our 30's, less so now that we all have plenty of decorations)
  • making or spending no more than $5 on the same small gift for each member that (1) says something about us and (2) is a small treat we want to share with our closest friends. Examples: a small tube of a favorite luxurious hand cream, homemade soup and hot chocolate mixes, personalized picture frames and custom-made calendars (filled with photos of our 20 years of gatherings). When we distribute our gift to each member, we share why it is one of our favorite things. This is our current favorite way to exchange gifts.
We also choose a small way to make a positive impact somewhere. Last year, one of our group heard from a buddy serving as a flight nurse in Iraq who was in need of lots of knit sweat shirts and pants for injured soldiers. We each bought a few items and packed them, enclosing notes, after our lunch; our friend then mailed them off to her nurse friend. We've also adopted families or individuals via the Post's 100 Neediest Cases or through Feed My People over the years.

I hope these ideas might be adaptable for other groups of friends or families! Our point has always been to enjoy each other's company in a relaxed, relatively inexpensive fashion while finding a way to share our blessings in some small way with others who can use all the blessings they can get.
Cindy Bumb John Riggs and I were married 16 years ago on October 27, 1990. I was 31 and he was 40; we'd both been living on our own for several years, had our own house wares, and were economically self-sufficient and able to buy what we wanted. We didn't need a deluge of wedding gifts like serving trays, photo albums, etc.

So, in our invitations, we asked that people coming to our wedding make charitable donations in lieu of bringing wedding gifts. We suggested three specific recipients: Frieden's United Church of Christ in Moscow Mills, MO, which John had served as Pastor; Eden Theological Seminary, where John worked and I was studying and where we were married; and Hitz Home in Alhambra, IL, where my maternal grandmother lived, since she had Alzheimer's.

It was a blessing to share the blessing of our wedding with these organizations. I know that some friends spent more making a charitable donation than they would have on a what-do-I-get-them wedding gift.
Sarajane Campbell My husband, Scott, came up with a gift-giving idea that we have now incorporated within our immediate family. We have asked our children, instead of trying to come up with gifts for Mom and Dad, to create instead a page for our "gift" album/scrapbook. It can be a photo, a poem, a drawing, a story - anything that expresses their own thinking and creativity.
Pye Cioci I once was given a set of sturdy boxes, decoupaged with winter-themed paper (first purchased at a Hallmark store probably). At first, I didn't know what to do with them. Now they've become the best part of Christmas. Around Thanksgiving, we set the set of ten nesting boxes out, empty. They serve as a little decoration, nicely stacked, like the old-fashioned children's toys. One by one they mysteriously disappear as family members take the ones they need to hold presents, and then they all reappear on Christmas morning! Often the boxes are filled with wire sculptures made by the kids, or gift certificates for plays, movies or Twins games. No unrecyclable wrapping paper to throw away and gifts of entertainment mean it all works for the environment AND, best of all, we never set foot in the mall!

One of the last Christmas gifts I gave my grandmother before her death was a copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany. Among my favorite books ever, it is a quirky novel about a physically small young man, with a high squeaky voice who may have been sent by God with the single mission to die saving a group of Vietnamese orphans. Or maybe not. My grandmother struggled with some of the same issues the book did. I thought she might like the story, too.

My grandmother lived for beautiful gems and fine crystal - her "sparklies". The copy of Owen Meany I sent her was used. I knew that might annoy her. In the card I explained my love of used books. I told her that I sent her this book, not because I was cheap or because she didn't deserve a new one, but because I worried about our culture and environment. Because we both cared about my sons, her great grandsons, and our every choice and action mattered for the world we'd leave them. She never told me what she thought about the book or my card. But I'm glad I sent them.
Ruth Ann Cioci When the Missouri Botanical Garden had all that wonderful stone sculpture from Zimbabwe on display a few years ago, my husband and I actually agreed on which of those pieces for sale we liked best. The cost was way too high, I balked. Pat said that if we bought that piece we would never have to buy another present for each other. We bought it. The money went to a worthy cause, we love the sculpture, and we have both relished the no-stress, no-gifts policy and have adhered to it absolutely.

When we moved from our big family house in Kirkwood to our small retirement house in the City, we felt the burden of all the "stuff" we had collected. Our kids were helpful and took a lot of it. But we decided right then that we were through loading them up with "stuff." So we set up the Cioci Family Travel Fund. Son and daughter and their spouses enthusiastically signed on to the idea. The adults get only a "travel deposit" for Christmas and birthdays and the four grandsons get small (non-plastic) gifts and a "travel deposit" from their grandparents. (But they still get a Halloween box.) Any of the three women can write the travel checks. Last summer we wiped out the account to rent a five-bedroom villa in Tuscany for a week. The grandsons loved it and agree that travel is better than things.
Anne Desmond Instead of giving stuff on holidays, I prefer to do what I can throughout the year. Opportunities are everywhere. When people, especially single people, are ill or hurt, they need not only company, but also a note-taker and an advocate.

When the wonderful Mexican man who cut my lawn was diagnosed with prostate cancer, it was my chance to learn about the disease and then to educate the family. It was also a chance to seek and then find one of the top urological surgeons in St. Louis - a doctor who was happy donating his skill and persuading the hospital to be similarly generous.

There is the illegal Mexican immigrant, who longed to become a citizen but needed help finding a Spanish-speaking psychologist with expertise in dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas, I love being the in-the-kitchen mother and grandmother to a young South African family.
Ruth Ehresman Over the years we have tried to find ways of exchanging gifts that enhance the livelihood of individuals in developing countries and immigrants/refugees. I organize an annual shopping night at Plowsharing Crafts for my church. We have purchased gifts from Heifer International, and made gifts to the Meru Hunger Project and my church's immigrant and refugee assistance program in honor of loved ones. We have also made gifts to the Humane Society, the Wolf Sanctuary and similar animal protection groups, and planted trees (National Arbor Day Foundation) in honor of family members.

I have found that the Art Museum and History Museum offer interesting and creative gifts for children.

My daughter went the extra mile last year, showering us with gifts of her time. She snuck into our house late one night to clean and organize the cabinet that holds my baking dishes and plastic food containers. For her 23-year-old brother, she made lasagna from scratch and froze it in meal-size containers (some of which were liberated from my over-stocked cabinets).
Eileen Embree When my husband and I were first married, our finances were pretty limited, but we felt more than fortunate when we would read the stories in the Post Dispatch's 100 Neediest Cases. That first Christmas we decided that we would use the money we would have spent on gifts for each other and donate it to one of the cases. We have continued that tradition for 31 years now, increasing our "gifts" as our finances improved. We have never missed opening a package on Christmas morning. Rather, we have both enjoyed the warmth of feeling that we have captured the "real" spirit of the season. One year, at my husband's office, he suggested that the staff forego their "gift exchange" and instead collect for the 100 Neediest Cases. That suggestion was the beginning of a year-round involvement between his department and the charity, with some of the employees collecting items for those families, delivering gifts, etc. That was about 25 years ago and has continued long after his retirement from the firm (A.G. Edwards & Sons).
Ruthie Faerber When my husband Bob and I celebrated our first Christmas together, we began a tradition of giving each other an ornament to hang on our Christmas tree...a tradition carried over from my mother who each year hand crafted ornaments for her children and grandchildren. When our kids were born, we continued that tradition for them. The first ones were indicative of their ages - Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie. In later years, ornaments that reflected their interests, such as a ballerina, a fireman, a soccer player, and a Girl Scout, graced the tree. Special milestones such as graduations and new jobs have celebratory ornaments. When a mouse inhabited my daughter's law school apartment, she received a "...not a creature was stirring" mouse ornament! While it is challenging some years to find that "special ornament," I know the kids would be disappointed if they didn't have a new one to hang on the tree each year. At least I tell myself that in my yearly quest!

In 1998, Bob passed away suddenly. I decided we needed a new tradition, so drawing on my love of children's books and reading, along with their ornament that year, my 17-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter each received a children's Christmas book, one appropriately entitled A Snowman Named Just Bob, about a snowman who wanted people to remember him even after he melted away. I wrote an inscription in each of their books about their dad, something they can share with their children someday. So now they look forward to two gift wrapped holiday traditions - a new Christmas book, which they will read to their future children, and a new ornament to grace their family's Christmas tree - and the unwrapped, but ever present memory of holidays filled with traditions that began with a mother's gift of love.
Barbara Finch Whenever I need small holiday gifts, I like to shop at the "Empty Bowl" event sponsored by Operation Food Search. Local artists, as well as area school children, make and contribute one-of-a-kind ceramic bowls, with prices starting at $10. The "Empty Bowl" event is held every November at Plaza Frontenac. All proceeds go to Operation Food Search. Empty bowls remind us to think of the hungry during the holiday season. Each bowl is different and each makes a thoughtful holiday gift.

My niece and nephew have an interfaith marriage and are bringing up their two girls to observe both Jewish and Christian traditions. In December this means both Hanukkah and Christmas....and lots of gifts.

They have one custom that teaches their daughters that the season is about giving as well as getting. In the months leading up to the holidays they save all the solicitations and requests for donations that pour in at this time of year. Then, one night during the 8-day Hanukkah celebration, instead of opening their gifts they sit down together and review all the requests for money that have come in. They talk about each charity and what it does, and decide together which ones they want to support. The money that would have been spent on gifts for that night is instead then given to the charities.

This tradition is teaching the girls two important lessons: both Judaism and Christianity value charity, and there are many needy people in the world who deserve support from those who happen to be more fortunate.
Jean Ann Funk The most consistent and easiest thing I do at Christmas and birthdays, etc. is recycle. I use the cute gift bags (that I think others have recycled) to "wrap" presents. Large, medium and small, they make gift-giving easy. Put some tissue paper on top and voila. Make gift cards out of cut-up greeting cards to personalize. I use a huge bag we received years ago to hold wrapping paper, etc. I also re-use wrapping paper & bows, and still use paper I bought 30 years ago - like baby paper, etc. I've started sending priceless birthday cards that I've received, to friends, when appropriate. Down by the Station, in Kirkwood, sells new, past-season cards marked down to 50 cents. Cornucopia does the same thing. And don't throw away cards you receive!! Keep for scrapbooking, photo albums, decorating, notes, etc.

As far as decorating, I start with exterior doors (wreaths ordered from the Boy Scouts are nice) and windows (candles, etc.) If I have the time and inclination, I decorate profusely with family and special ornaments. If not, after the tree is up (now faux), I can stop decorating and just admire. You can use cards as they come in to decorate. Different not-for-profits sell great ornaments & cards.
Chery Green On both sides of my family, we have agreed to buy Christmas gifts only for the children (through high school). My husband and I come up with "stocking stuffer" gifts for our grown-up kids and their spouses, but keep them inexpensive and "fun." For other family members or friends we want to remember, we make donations in their name to organizations like Heifer International, Alternative Gifts International, America's Second Harvest, and Little Wishes. For our grandchildren, the major part of each holiday and birthday gift is a contribution to their college fund (we have a Missouri 529 College Savings Plan for each). We supplement this with gifts like books, board games, and handmade items like stilts (my husband is a woodworker). We don't buy anything which runs on batteries.

One year I organized a project at my church with the Adopt-a-Family Project through the St. Louis County Department of Human Services. We were given the ages and sizes of all family members, and some information on major needs. We collected money and shopped for gifts for each family member - mostly clothes, but also toys for the kids. We also provided all the food items needed for Christmas dinner. All wrapped gifts and the food basket were dropped off at a central point to be distributed to the family, in order to keep their identity private.
Lana Hagan I try to strongly support the ARTS. My gift to my family for the holidays is a trip to the theatre or to the holiday symphony. This requires no wrapping paper and it provides an evening of family togetherness and some great memories, not to mention a wonderful tradition.

Wrapping presents with newspaper and yarn is a great way to recycle. The kids' presents get wrapped in the comics. And you can always wrap some in the sports pages. It's fun to match up the sections of the paper with the interests of the recipient of the gift.
Jane Hardin I think it would be great to give memberships in Women's Voices to our progressive friends this holiday season. That would increase our membership and reduce our shopping.
Ginger Harris The tradition in my family since my childhood (I'm now 63) is to give holiday gifts only to children. Adults are satisfied by just getting together for family potluck holiday meals.

In some years past, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom has observed the holidays by (1) attending St. Louis' Thanksgiving parade, where we have distributed leaflets asking people not to buy "war toys" (including guns or toy guns) as holiday gifts; (2) getting together during the holidays to share special stories and poems.
Susan Hayman One small victory for Justice and Giving: I've suggested to family members for several years that a donation to a charitable organization would give me greater pleasure than would a more traditional gift. This year, I convinced my daughter-in-law Michelle (by proactively calling her a week before my birthday!) that a contribution to a women's shelter would give me many moments of satisfaction during the next year. She was kind enough to listen, so maybe a tradition has begun.
Suzanne Hearnes I'm a "saver" by nature - reusing wrapping paper (sometimes even smoothing it out with a warm iron); bows; scraps of ribbon. Also, I save ANYTHING that can be used in place of ribbon, e.g. a colorful shoelace, an old sash, strips of material cut with pinking shears. And, of course, we save nice boxes, and if they are attractive by themselves, there's no need to wrap at all!

We (including our daughters) have started using those ubiquitous blank greeting cards more often, only occasionally purchasing a "store-bought" one; and I haven't bought "to and from" tags for years, to use at Christmas - instead I use the sample cards we get from various organizations and the fronts from past years' cards that we have received. And since we decorate minimally and with winter colors rather than the more traditional bright red and green, I wrap gifts mostly in plain white or brown paper, e.g. what The Frame Shop wraps a finished picture in.

As for gifts:
  • Many years ago we began giving Dick's Mom a St. Louis Zoo "parentage" as a Mother's Day present - for Clara an elephant - her favorite animal; now that she's deceased, we continue the gift in her memory.
  • We give a friend a membership at the Zoo every Christmas.
  • We've paid for all three grandchildren through KinderMusik as birthday and/or Christmas gifts.
  • We sponsor a Barn Buddy at the Humane Society's Longmeadow Rescue Ranch in the names of two grandchildren (apparently this has really caught on, according to a volunteer).
  • We give our grandson a subscription to National Wildlife Federation's "Ranger Rick" magazine for his birthday.
  • We give old, treasured items as gifts, e.g. my collection of "Anne of Green Gables" books to our granddaughter.
  • This year was the second (but not the last) that we requested help with yard work from our two daughters as a combined Mother's and Father's Day gift - the grandkids helped too!
  • Our gifts to each other? Usually our next trip - travel is our one extravagance, so it rates as a special present - one that lives in memories, doesn't wear out nor becomes obsolete!
We do all this is for two reasons: we think these gifts will be appreciated more over the years rather than flashy junk from Target, etc., and we feel good about saving, preserving, caring.
Judy Highfill My favorite gift every year is a home-made photo calendar of my four grandchildren. My daughter-in-law has thoughtfully put this together for me every year since the children began arriving six years ago. She is "into" scrap-booking, and is very artistic and creative. However, there are kits available that are not very complicated, which enable you to add family photos for each month, and which are an absolute JOY for the grandparent receiving it, especially if they live out-of-state, which is quite common nowadays.

Not only is this a wonderful gift throughout the year in which it is used (and looked at every day, reminding me of my precious little grandchildren - two boys and two girls, ages one, three, four, and six), but it is a great keepsake that will bring years of pleasure to everyone in the family, in my later years and far out into the future.

A second idea which several family members subscribe to for holiday giving is that of giving to people in need around the world in the name of your loved ones. We have given gifts of donations to three responsible organizations with worthy causes: Doctors Without Borders, Heifer International, and Seva.
Joanne Kelly A French Idea ... I understand that the French give something that is special to them as a Christmas gift. A mother might give her daughter a special piece of jewelry, especially if it is a family heirloom. A father might give a special book from his library, or grandfather's proverbial watch.

When my kids were young, we would open up brown-paper grocery bags and paint on Christmas symbols or cut a stamp from a potato and stamp that special design onto the paper. With a paper ribbon or gold cord, these gifts looked very festive.

My favorite charity is Beyond Housing. I give a larger sum of money to them each Christmas, then enclose a note in Christmas cards saying that a gift has been made in the recipient's name to Beyond Housing. The agency also send a letter to the names I include on my list. This also expands the mailing list for Beyond Housing.
Anne Kelsey I will always love filling my children's Christmas stockings, no matter how old they get! But now we simplify our gifts. To the wider family we give gifts from Heifer International or Episcopal Relief and Development. They have catalogues with a variety of prices, and you can give mosquito nets to help prevent malaria, a caregiver for a month for someone with AIDS, chickens, and so on. I'll never forget the gratitude on my oldest daughter's face when she got the card in her stocking that told her four children would have mosquito nets in her name. One year our family provided an entire Christmas for another family, and we wrote about taking the food and presents to them in a card that went out a little late. Once you get going you can be pretty creative.

I suppose my inspiration came from my oldest daughter, many years ago, when we went into San Francisco before Christmas for a fancy tea and looking at the animated shop displays. I had promised each of my two girls that I'd buy them a treat that day - but homeless people were lining the streets. Among them was a woman with several small children. My two girls, especially my oldest, were very distraught at this. Sarah turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, "Mommy, whatever you were going to spend on me, please give it to them instead." Christmas has always been focused differently for me since that moment, because I realized that children have large and generous hearts, and are more ready than we know to exercise that generosity.
Tresa McCallie My husband's family is a large one and buying gifts for all the young children and all the adults in the immediate family was an overwhelming task. For the last eight years we have continued giving gifts to the children but in place of gifts for the adults each family makes a donation with an equivalent monetary value to Habitat for Humanity. Everyone is thrilled with this decision and over 15 homes have been built in our hometown. When we drive by the homes we know that we have played a part in making these homes possible. We all feel we have made a lasting contribution to others more needy.
Suzy McShane I have been working on this dilemma for years and have tried a number of things, some successful and some not so successful. Here are some of the ideas that have worked for my family and me. Our four children are all in their twenties and have begun to marry. As no one has a lot of money, they draw names amongst themselves (and their spouses) to see who gives a gift to whom. They also set a dollar limit. While we still buy gifts for family and friends, we also donate to a charitable cause - usually Heifer International - in their names. Then I make a gift card online and email the card to the recipient to save paper.

We also like to give gifts of IOUs to family members, e.g., "I owe you one closet cleaning." One of my daughters and I bake cookies, bread and/or pies as gifts, which are always well received. We also enjoy giving and receiving gifts that don't become dust catchers, such as car wash/restaurant/coffee shop/book store gift certificates. For older family members, those who really don't need any material goods, we give the gift of our time, such as taking them to a Mizzou game, to a special restaurant or a day trip within Missouri.

Gift wrapping and all the waste it entails has bothered me for years. I no longer purchase gift wrap, not even that made from recycled paper. I reuse every gift bag given me and try to recycle those that are too beaten up. I buy dish towels and other items to wrap small gifts and I also wrap things in the funny pages from the Post Dispatch. Lately, however, I've discovered ReusableBags.com, and I've ordered several sizes of gift bags. They aren't cheap, but they're quite nice and should hold up for years. If I use them for a family member, I ask for them back. If it's for a friend I ask only that, if they keep the bag, they keep reusing it or passing it on. So far, so good, and I feel much better.

Have we conquered the shop-till-you-drop, Martha Stewart syndrome? Not exactly, but we're working on it!
Donna Nix Back in the days when my daughters were too old to believe in Santa Claus and old enough to see the inequities of the Christmas gift giving in our community, they got what I like to call the "Christmas gimmes." It was "gimme this" or "gimme that" and "I want this" and "I want that." Our income at the time was of the typical American family of four, but way out of step with the more affluent community in which we lived. They thought we were poor and rejected any conversation to the contrary. Finally, I took matters into my own hands, called "100 Neediest Cases" and asked them to send us a family that we could adopt for our Christmas gift giving. I asked for a family with daughters so my daughters could experience shopping for another girl who did not have many of the things they were taking for granted. And so, a tradition was born. Years later when our family had had a particularly rough year and Christmas was going to be rather sparse, I asked them if they would like to forgo this tradition in favor of more presents. Both girls gave me a resounding "No!"

Lesson learned. We are never so rich as when we give from our hearts.
Mary O'Reilly I often wrap gifts in the Sunday comics or in brown paper from shopping bags (turned inside out and cut to open flat). I tie them with colored string and draw designs/patterns, greetings on the brown paper with markers or crayons.

When I was young, my family and a group of their tune-carrying friends participated in the then well-organized Christmas Caroling effort on Christmas Eve. Each group would go house to house, wearing red capes, singing carols and taking donations in support of the Crippled Children's Society (now Easter Seals). It was a wonderful tradition and the neighborhoods so serenaded looked forward to it.
Jean Ponzi A mental Mute button automatically controls my attention this time of year. When activated, it completely blocks my ability to perceive anything Christmas! This can kick on anywhere, anytime but I notice it most in retail environments.

I can be walking through unlikely sites - the drug store or supermarket - and suddenly, just past a display of lipstick or bananas, there'll be a big black hole in the merchandise aisle. I can see beyond these sensory no-zones, perfectly normal and plain as day, the next row of vitamins or cheese or whatever. I've noticed these spaces often glow faintly red and green.

My brain blockade assembles earlier every year. This time I experienced it before Labor Day! That was disorienting, let me tell you. In the last week my fashion ethics let me go about in tie-dye and white shoes I'm jaunting along on a visit to a favorite local cultural institution and I glance into the gift shop and ho-ho-ho! The Muzak mutes and everything before my eyes pixillates like a TV news shot of naughty body parts.

You'd think such selectivity would have some loopholes, some chinks through which a snatch of fa-la-la or an ornament's glitter or an EVERYONE ON YOUR LIST advertising message might merrily seep. Especially in a middle-aged brain grown drafty enough that . now what was I just going to say?

Nope. Can't see, can't hear, can't smell or any other way can't comprehend so much as a whiff of wassail before the dawn of - turkey day! Despite the variable onset of my holly-jolly-filtering phenomenon, I can set my clock for the day it dissolves, revealing a world of festive splendor, on Thanksgiving morning when I go downtown for the Holiday Parade.

The month or so between Thanksgiving and actual calendar Yuletide provides plenty of time to steep my spirit in both trappings and traditions of The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. More than that, thankfully, is lost on me.
Lois Clay Quest Yes, we, too, have changed how we do things at the holidays and birthdays. We made a large donation to Community Alternatives, an agency in St. Louis that assists people living with, or just moving from, or in the danger of homelessness while struggling with mental illness. We attached our gift list and supplied postage to the agency when we sent our check, so that they would send thank-you's to our family and friends. We attached information about the agency to cards that we gave as gifts.

Last year, after Thanksgiving dinner at our house, we gave everyone the video, Wal-Mart: The High Price of Low Price. We also mailed it and gave it to other friends before the "shopping" season. We have told our younger relatives to put money toward their student loans or into savings plan as a gift to us. Our more mature relatives and friends, we have told we want them to spend their TIME on us, having conversations, sharing meals, activities, doing things together, etc. We will accept small hand-made gifts and we will give small hand-made gifts, as well. For some folks, we give gift cards from Schnuck's or Walgreen's or PetCo or PetsMart because we know they do struggle to meet some of their needs, and we know this is appreciated and useful. In terms of gift-wrapping: we, for years, have re-used the SAME papers, ribbons and bags over and over again. I cannot remember when I last bought gift wrap of any kind. We are currently working on our theme for this year! Happy Holidays.
Barbara Richter Long ago we drastically limited what we buy for Christmas. Our tradition is that each of the kids (or couples) chooses a charity they would like us to donate to and we send a donation in their name to that charity. Then when we are together for Christmas, each describes their charity and why they wanted to donate to that charity. We believe this promotes the concept of donations and getting involved in the local charitable community. Each of the grandkids gets one reasonably priced gift from us. The only other person we give a gift to is my Mom. We also adopt a family from Webster Rock Hill Ministries and send Christmas presents and food to that family. Our Christmas celebrations have become much more fun and enjoyable since we made these changes. We do very little shopping.
Pam Ross My mother just turned 86 this October. Her body is weak but her mind is fabulous. She reads a book everyday. My sisters and I have devised the perfect birthday celebration for her. Mom lives in a small city in southeast Arizona where the restaurants are either Mexican, Chinese or fast food. She and her friends are tired of the food and aren't good at cooking for themselves anymore.

Mom's birthday has become a three- to four-day food fest. We send her a menu for several meals and she invites her friends over for dinner. She plans which people come each night according to the menu. We do all the cooking and cleaning and she is the belle of the ball.

We have managed to help her keep her friends close to her and we now know them rather well. She has managed to have younger friends, including the librarian who delivers her books, the young neighbor who checks on her everyday and various other retired folks.

Her friends wait for our visits. They look forward to the old fashioned cooking that we do. Of course there is homemade pie, fresh baked bread (ok, frozen rolls but hey, they smell so good) and usually 8-10 people each night. It has become a tradition in just a few years.

I'm convinced that what older people miss is just some great food and a table full of friends and family. My daughter sends a big bouquet of flowers so her grandma can brag to all her many friends. I'm not sure which she loves the most, planning the whole guest list or enjoying the meals with them.

I hope this will inspire others. We give Mom small gifts of nightgowns and robes but they are more like door prizes.
Ann Ruger About ten years ago, our then 25-year-old son Jason asked my husband Pete and me for an unusual Christmas gift. "What I want from each of you is a written account of the first ten years of your life, at least what you can remember." Both of us had fun creating these gifts, recalling childhood memories that we hadn't thought about for years. Apparently Jason liked the gifts, too, because each year since, he's asked us both for another installment. We've been through high school, college, early married life, kids, moves, job changes, and all the rest. What a gift it's been to Pete and me, to be asked to sit quietly during one of the busiest times of the year and remember where we've been.
Susan Scribner My brother and sister and I decided about seven years ago to forgo buying each other Chanukah presents. I make a donation every year to Families with Children from China in honor of my sister's daughters and my brother usually makes a donation in our names to Heifer International or some similar program. That's not incredibly revolutionary but at least it's something.
Alice Serrano I buy gifts at Plowsharing Crafts in the Delmar Loop, where the proceeds help the indigenous of many countries and where fair trade products are sold. The items are often unique and beautiful.

When the kids were all at home, we used to take a family trip during the holidays rather than exchanging gifts. Our present to each other was our presence of each other.
Terry Sibbitts Two years ago, my family of five, my husband Gary, our three children and I, decided to raise money to build a well in Mozambique. It began as a result of a group from our church going to Mozambique and subsequently our finding out that it only cost $4,500 to build a well for a village. We gave ourselves a year to raise the money. We wrote out a list of all the "talents" we could offer. Then we ran an advertisement with a family picture in the Webster-Kirkwood Times advertising a family for hire. Initially we received a call from a woman in Webster needing her yard raked. Then the paper decided to pick up the idea for a story and it took off like crazy from there. We raked (and raked). Mowed a yard, did some landscaping, cleaned wooden blinds. Raked some more, worked at a holiday party and at a two-year-old's birthday. Wrapped some Christmas presents, decorated the outside of someone's house, did computer work, cooked. We pet sat for two dogs, three cats, a rabbit, a snake and a blind gecko. We had an elderly gentleman with Alzheimer's come and play games with us, babysat some kids and took a delightful woman to her doctor's appointment. We received checks in the mail from friends and strangers too. We raised $6,000 in 6 weeks. It was an amazing experience for all and now there is a well for a small village in Mozambique.

My husband's family started a great tradition for Christmas about ten years ago. We used to buy his parents a gift and then draw names to give a gift to a sibling or spouse. Then we decided we really did not "need" anything for Christmas so instead we pool the money that we would have spent on gifts and donate to a different organization each year. We select the organization by rotation. Each year a different family member gets to decide where the money goes. Along the way we have bought carpeting for a small chapel, bought a needy family a washer and dryer, given money to the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society and Habitat for Humanity.
Carol Teicher Our immediate family of nine agreed to save trees and wrap everything in recycled brown paper grocery bag creations for Christmas one year. We had lots of fun using up old Christmas cards to decorate them with, as well as recycled ribbon, straw, tinsel, tissue paper and other assorted stuff. I still have the best ones in my closet!

For about ten years I have used Christmas fabrics to make draw string bags in assorted sizes for gift-giving to very close family members, who then voluntarily return the bags to me for next year. I also keep some of the pieces of fabric flat and simply wrap with them and tie them up with ribbon for larger items. The fabrics are beautiful, cute, graphic - all Christmas themes and colors. Check out the sales of fabric after Christmas this year and you'll find a treasure trove of choices at a good price.

Among extended family, we decided long ago to draw names from a hat at Thanksgiving, and only buy for that one person.
Judy Tisdale I often order animals or shares of animals from Heifer International. They send a card to you to give the recipient and I, meanwhile, have found a Christmas ornament that suits the gift and give that with the card. The recipient gets something to open and keep and some person or village gets rabbits or pigs or geese or... my favorite gifts are the "knitting basket," which is animals whose fur may be spun and used, and either baby piglets or baby bunnies since they are so appealing!
Beth von Behren Despite being a writer my entire life (beginning with a fourth grade essay about my messy room), and despite receiving a variety of Christmas/holiday letters from friends and family over the years (some incredibly funny, some unbearably long-winded), it had never occurred to me to write one myself until after my mother died, four years ago. I began to realize how important it was for my children to remember the significant events of their lives and to share those lives with the people we love (in stories and photos). So, in 2003, I wrote my first holiday letter (which turned out to be more of a color brochure with photos), opening with the words "Reader Beware" and ending with "We feel blessed by good health and the love of our family and friends, truly a miracle in a world overrun by war and hatred. Wishing you all peace, love, and good health in the new year ahead."
Patricia von zur Muehlen To cut down on excessive consumption during the holidays and throughout the year, I participate in Freecycle. By joining this network, I became one of about 10,000 people in the St. Louis area who give away unwanted items large and small that someone else may make use of. This organization saves 55 tons a day from the landfills. One may give and receive items as long as all items are free.
Linda Wallace Jones Our family is looking for ways to reduce the holiday stress and materialism. Last year we began by asking each of our two adult sons and their wives to give us the name of a charitable organization with special meaning to them; we gave a gift to those four organizations in honor of each "child." I look forward to seeing the suggestions of others before this holiday season begins!
Appendix The Organizations Mentioned in Our Stories

Adopt-a-Family Project, St. Louis County Department of Human Services

Hundreds of St. Louis County Government employees in dozens of different departments take the lead to provide food, clothing, toys, household items, help with rent and utilities for over 1,200 needy county families during the holidays. Many private businesses and faith-based groups join in this effort as well.

Alternative Gifts International

The mission of this organization is to send authentic, life-giving gifts to a needy world - gifts that build a partnership with people in crisis and that protect and preserve the earth's endangered environment - to nourish and sustain a more equitable and peaceful global community.

American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society is the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service.

American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to reduce disability and death from cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

America's Second Harvest

This organization distributes food and grocery products through a nationwide certified member network, increases public awareness of domestic hunger and advocates for public policies that benefit America's hungry.

Beyond Housing

Beyond Housing's mission is to strengthen neighborhoods, one family at a time. They do this by providing affordable housing, helping families achieve and sustain homeownership, fostering the well-being of families, and identifying and addressing neighborhood needs.

Community Alternatives

This organization's mission is to provide a comprehensive range of services to people with mental health problems in the St. Louis area, especially those who suffer from severe mental illness, poverty, homelessness, chemical dependency and alcoholism, and other acute problems.

Doctors Without Borders

Doctors Without Borders is an independent international medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural or man-made disasters, or exclusion from health care in more than 70 countries.

Easter Seals

Easter Seals has been helping individuals with disabilities and special needs, and their families, live better lives for more than 80 years. From child development centers to physical rehabilitation and job training for people with disabilities, Easter Seals offers a variety of services to help people with disabilities address life's challenges and achieve personal goals.

Episcopal Relief and Development

This organization provides emergency assistance in times of disaster; rebuilds devastated communities and offers long-term program development solutions to fight poverty.

Families with Children from China

FCC is a nondenominational organization of families who have adopted children from China. The purpose of FCC is provide a network of support for families who've adopted in China and to provide information to prospective parents.

Feed My People

This organization, an interdenominational help center in St. Louis county, provides compassionate care for people in need. They offer their clients a helping hand in their time of need - NOT a way of life! In addition to dispensing food supplies, they offer job counseling, budget guidance and other instructive services designed to assist their clients in their quest to get back on their feet.

Freecycle

The Freecycle Network is made up of many individual groups across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving and getting stuff for free in their own towns. The Network provides individuals and non-profits an electronic forum to "recycle" unwanted items. One person's trash can truly be another's treasure!

Habitat for Humanity

This organization seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world, and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action. Through volunteer labor and donations of money and materials, they build and rehabilitate simple, decent houses with the help of the homeowner partner families.

Heifer International

This organization works to end world hunger by giving cows, goats and other food- and income-producing livestock to impoverished families around the world.

"What would be the better gift for someone you love - another present that gathers dust on a shelf? Or a heifer and training purchased in honor of your special someone that brings health and hope to people in need?" - The Heifer Project Gift Catalogue

Home Eco

Home Eco is St. Louis's first environmentally-friendly home products store serving eco-conscious consumers with the latest selection of organic cotton and hemp apparel, bedding, rugs, home furnishings, gifts, housewares, books, art from recycled materials, locally produced artisanal soaps, candles, stationary from recycled paper and more in addition to recycling bins, composting supplies, rain barrels, solar ovens and other renewable energy products.

Humane Society of Missouri

This organization's mission is to end the cycle of abuse and pet overpopulation through rescue and investigation efforts, spay/neuter programs and educational classes. They are committed to creating lasting relationships between people and animals through our adoption programs.

Little Wishes

The goal of this program is simply to help foster children have a childhood. To do this, Little Wishes raises donations from the public to fund opportunities that help kids grow and thrive.

Longmeadow Rescue Ranch

Located near near Union, Missouri, the Longmeadow Rescue Ranch is haven for hundreds of abused and neglected horses, cows, goats, pigs, ducks and other farm animals. Have you ever wanted a Ranch animal of your very own, but one wouldn't fit in your living room? Sponsor a Barn Buddy! Your sponsorship will help feed, board and provide medical care for the animal of your choice.

Meru Hunger Project

One of the projects in the Immigrant and Refugee Ministry of St. Pius V Parish in the City of St. Louis, the Meru Hunger Project welcomes, assists, and advocates for refugees and immigrants who are settling in the neighborhoods around the parish.

Missouri Botanical Garden

The Garden's mission is to discover and share knowledge about plants and their environment, in order to preserve and enrich life. The Garden advocates sustainable resource management through conservation of biodiversity, sound horticultural practices, international understanding and action, and low impact use of all resources.

Missouri History Museum

The Museum Shop is a wonderful source for books and gifts relating to the history and culture of the St. Louis region. For the kids, they make history fun by offering educational kits, games and puzzles, plush toys and an assortment of children's books.

MOST - Missouri's 529 College Savings Plan

MOST 529 helps make saving for college easy and affordable. This state-sponsored plan features significant federal and state tax benefits, including a state income tax deduction of up to $8,000 per year $16,000 if married filing jointly for Missouri taxpayers.

National Arbor Day Foundation

This organization inspires people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees. With each $5 donation, a tree will be planted in a national forest that has been damaged by fire, insect or disease, and you'll receive a beautiful Give-a-Tree card.

National Wildlife Federation

National Wildlife Federation inspires Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future. RANGER RICK is an award-winning magazine for children that is available on their web site.

100 Neediest Cases

Since 1900, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has sponsored a holiday event to benefit the least fortunate families in St. Louis. Through time the event has evolved, and today the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the United Way work together with the help of social service agencies to identify over 10,000 cases of area residents struggling to overcome poverty. As the holiday season approaches, the newspaper publishes 100 of these personal case stories. Each year, support arrives in the form of corporate donations, monetary gifts, and wrapped presents. Although each of the 10,000 cases will receive some monetary assistance, only a small percentage of families are "adopted," meaning that an individual, group, or business agrees to buy gifts, clothing, household appliances, or other specially requested items.

Operation Food Search

Operation Food Search distributes more than 1 million pounds of perishable and non-perishable food and household items to 300 food pantries and soup kitchens who offer emergency hunger-relief to nearly 100,000 poor people every single month. Nearly half the recipients are children.

The Empty Bowls event, held in November at Plaza Frontenac, provides an opportunity to purchase original handcrafted bowls created by local artisans and students. All proceeds will go directly to Operation Food Search and its efforts to fight hunger.

Oxfam America

This organization is committed to creating lasting solutions to global poverty, hunger and social injustice. They work on the scene, helping people gain the hope, skills, and direction to create a new future.

Plowsharing Crafts

Plowsharing Crafts, a part of Ten Thousand Villages, provides vital, fair income to Third World people by selling their handicrafts and telling their stories in North America. They work with artisans who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed. The income helps pay for food, education, health care, and housing.

ReusableBags.com

From super-convenient, ultra compact bags that fit in the palm of your hand and heavy duty bags that last a lifetime, to classic totes and money-saving produce bags - this handpicked selection represents the best available and encompasses a wide range of styles.

These high-quality, reusable bags will help you eliminate hundreds, if not thousands, of those plastic and paper shopping bags choking our planet. It's an easy way to do your part!

St. Louis Art Museum

The Museum Shop carries a wide array of beautiful and eclectic items, including a fun assortment of toys, games, books, and art supplies that are sure to inspire every child.

St. Louis Zoo Parents Program

Become a Zoo Parent at the Saint Louis Zoo. When you adopt an animal, your donation goes towards the animal's care and daily feeding. For a few dollars, you can pick up the tab for an elephant's 100-pounds-a-day hay habit or keep a sea lion swimming pretty with 25 pounds of fish a day. Whatever animal you choose, you'll know all your money goes to support your new family member and the entire Zoo.

Save the Children

This organization creates real and lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. You can sponsor a child for just $28 a month. And you can share this gift with a loved one. The recipient will receive a gift card and welcome package introducing them to Save the Children's family of child sponsors.

Seva

Seva (say-va) is a Sanskrit word for service. Seva Foundation was formed in 1978 with a mission to alleviate suffering caused by disease and poverty. Their approach is to build partnerships that respond to locally defined problems with culturally sustainable solutions.

Wal-Mart: The High Price of Low Price

This is the documentary film sensation that's changing the largest company on earth. The film features the deeply personal stories and everyday lives of families and communities struggling to survive in a Wal-Mart world. It's an emotional journey that will challenge the way you think, feel... and shop.

Webster Rock Hill Ministries

This is an emergency social service organization that provides emergency assistance to those in need, works to create new life options for people and seeks to create community by breaking down barriers between people. The Ministries provides opportunities for diverse members of the community to work and serve together in partnership without regard to class, age, race, or denominational ties.

Wild Canid Survival and Research Center

This organization, popularly known as the Wolf Sanctuary, was founded in 1971 by noted naturalist Dr. Marlin Perkins, his wife Carol, and a group of individuals concerned about the plight of canids. It is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the wolf and other endangered canids through education, research and captive breeding.

Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

Thinking of what to give this year for holidays coming up? WILPF has a special End-of-year offer! FIVE GIFT MEMBERSHIPS FOR $100. Save $75 over the standard membership price of $35 each, AND strengthen WILPF to organize for peace and freedom. Special offer is only available for 5 gift memberships ordered at the same time, and only for orders received by Dec. 31, 2006. New members will receive a welcome packet and a card to let them know of your gift.

Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice

This organization's mission as if you didn't know ... is to identify, research and discuss critical issues, to mobilize, energize and inspire ourselves and others to action, and to work as individuals and in community for social justice

Youth in Need

Since its founding in 1974, this organization has evolved into a multi-services agency serving children, youth, and families throughout Eastern Missouri. Youth In Need's vision is to be the community leader and driving force in making children's healthy development and well-being the community's highest priority, particularly for those who face adversity.