The great gift dilemma |

The great gift dilemma

Cassie PenceGreener Pastures

For some inexplicable reason, trick-or-treaters never knock on my door in Eagle-Vail. So I never buy any candy. But this year, a cute-as-a-button chicken did knock. Scrambling for a treat, my husband pulled an organic honey crisp apple from a case we had bought from Paonia. It was perfect for the moment, but later I was horrified: “Oh no,” I said to my hubby. “We have become one of thoooose homes.”The father of the chicken admitted later that as a kid he used to throw the apples back at the house, but with his own toddler daughter, the apple is the only trick-or-treat she was allowed to eat. The whole situation reminds me of “the great gift dilemma” I go through every holiday season. Just like offering healthy alternatives to trick-or-treaters (at the risk of being marked for egging in later years), do I forego traditional gifts for friends and family in exchange for alternative, anti-stuff gifts, like charitable donations, at the risk of being the weird aunt or hippy friend? Will my teenage nieces write me off forever because I’ve sent them nothing that is technologically cool or can be worn to attract boys? Isn’t it more fun to buy toys? I mean, even the World Wildlife Fund offers a plush animal with every donation. Are these gifts with a worldly lesson and meaningful message more for me than my recipients? Ironically, I often fall back on sugar to resolve this gift-giving dilemma, spending hours in the kitchen baking cookies, breads or making granola for friends and family. For me, it’s a happy compromise between meaningful gifts filled with love and gifts that people actually like. I know I love receiving rum balls. In the end, I’ll probably mix it up between edible gifts, maybe some regular old consumer favorites, like books, and I’ll brave the repercussions, albeit just an internal conflict, of the anti-stuff gift. Here are some charitable ideas from World Vision and Heifer International that will mark you, the gift-giver, not just weird or hippy-like, but cool, inspiring, thoughtful and generous, too. And it might even teach the receiver a little something about the holiday spirit. But then again, so do candy cane socks.For your foodie friendForget a $100 bottle of wine, donate a goat and two chickens in your foodie friend’s name. For $100 through, you can nourish a hungry family with healthy milk, cheese and yogurt. Chickens provide fresh eggs that are rich in protein and nutrients, and extra eggs and chicks can be sold to help the family pay for basics.For the cyclist in your lifeFor $85, you can buy a girl in countries like Cambodia or India a bicycle through, which will in turn help her get to school. Girls are forced to drop out of school because they live too far away or risk dangers such as violence or kidnapping on their walking route. Your gift of a bicycle will provide safe, speedy transportation for these eager young students, enabling them to achieve their dreams of education – and a brighter future.For the patriotThere are some people who feel there are needs in the U.S. that should be filled first before sending money abroad. One in five children live in a family struggling with poverty. For those patriotic types, you can give the anti-stuff, stuff gift – Christmas gifts for U.S. children. For a mere $25, you can help American kids get warm clothes, books, toys, school supplies and more for the holidays through Because of generous donations from leading corporations, your gift will multiply six times in value. For the entrepreneurFor that can-do person in your life, give the gift of bees to a person in Uganda or El Salvador and help that person start a new trade in life – beekeeping. Bees from Heifer International help struggling families earn income through the sale of honey, beeswax and pollen. Beehives require almost no space and, once established, are inexpensive to maintain. As bees search for nectar, they pollinate plants. Placed strategically, beehives can as much as double some fruit and vegetable yields. In this way, a beehive can be a boost to a whole village. Although most Heifer partners keep bees as a supplement to family income, beekeeping can be a family’s livelihood. Your gift can help Heifer provide a family with a package of bees, the box and hive, plus training in beekeeping.For the gardenerDonate a gardener’s gift basket from Heifer International in the name of your favorite person who like to grow their own. For $170, this basket represents everything a family will need to start a sustainable farm – tree seedlings, rabbits to generate organic manure, chickens to eat pests and a hive of bees to pollinate crops and increase yields. Freelance writer Cassie Pence is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle. She owns Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company, and is actively involved in the EagleVail Community Garden, the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability and Slow Food Vail Valley. Contact her at

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