It's easy to get caught up in the shopping rush of the holidays. But these three shoppers have chosen a different route, trading DVDs and sweaters for donkeys and school supplies. Read on to find out why they give Mercy Corps Gifts and how the experience has given them back the true meaning of the season.
I've given Mercy Corps Gifts for Christmas the past four years. To my husband, my sons, brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents. Everyone in our family is so very blessed, so these gifts that give to others in need just mean so much more.
The first time I switched from the usual presents to Mercy Corps Gifts, I included a note saying, “From this point on, in lieu of an actual gift, I will always give a gift in your name.” And that's the tradition I've kept.
Then and now, it's always very, very well received. I always get phone calls or thank you notes expressing their gratitude and telling me that they feel like they contributed themselves. And they want to learn more. Everyone always says the same thing: “I didn't realize how much is being done and how far-reaching Mercy Corps is throughout the world.” They feel that they've made a difference and will continue to do so.
I especially love that I can hand-pick gifts that let each person connect to how people are being helped and know that I was thinking about them in particular. For instance, my husband always received the gift of giving a bicycle since he is an avid cyclist. I always give my oldest son, 24, a gift about farming/plants or animals, which are his passions. My younger son, 21, receives a gift of teaching children, which is very important to him.
In fact, I remember my sister-in-law writing me a thank you note one year and saying, “I don't know how you knew, but children's education is so, so very important to me, and you just really touched my heart with this gift.” It was such a special moment, feeling like we had really connected. She felt that I had done with Christmas money what she would have wanted to do herself.
That's the reason I would love to see people give up the shopping frenzy. Kick that habit and get back to the true meaning of what giving is. Because we're all connected.
Great Falls, Virginia
I firmly believe there's always a way to take some time to help people. Growing up, my family didn't have a whole lot of money, but our lives were always about giving. In those days, we couldn't give money, but we were always volunteering to help out with stuff. Still today, I'm always helping somebody move or taking stuff to Goodwill. It's fun for me, I love doing that — and my brother's the same way. Obviously, my folks were the same way, which I suppose is where we get it from.
Knowing how their example had such an impact on me, I've been giving Mercy Corps Gifts to my friends' children for the past eight years. Now the list is up to about 14 kids. I always try to choose something that they can relate to, something that's keyed to each child's interests. And now they look forward to getting them every year. One of the girls is big into horses, so she always get the donkey. Another young woman is now in college, so I sent her one of the women's business gifts.
Last year, I sent the goat to my good friends' nine-year-old son. His mom, who is a teacher, told me that he brought her the card and asked her to tell him a little bit more about the present. After she explained the whole thing, he actually started crying because he thought it was just such a nice thing to do for someone. It was pretty neat to hear how she used the Mercy Corps Gift as a values lesson for him.
Everybody else tends to give kids some little gift that they'll play with for a while and that'll be it. But hopefully these Mercy Corps Gifts make a real impact on them and influence them for maybe the rest of their lives to know that there are other ways of giving and sharing. With such a wide price range, everybody can afford these and really send a powerful message.
I think most people would love to do something like this, it's just not the first thing that comes to mind. When we think of the holidays, we tend to think of having this pile of presents. So Mercy Corps Gifts are about reframing the idea of what giving is.
I remember being totally selfish during Christmas as a kid and wanting an iPod and all this ridiculous stuff. But the older I got, the less important presents became. There's just too much inequality in the world. I know that I have extra things, so that money can go to something better. There are so many resources in the world that it's silly some people are living very lavishly and others are living off of nothing.
So in high school I started asking people to give donations to charity instead of buying me birthday gifts. That made me start thinking about how I could give my parents something for Christmas, but not a new coffeemaker or something. And I've been giving them Mercy Corps Gifts for the last 5 years.
It's a different style of Christmas, but there is still a little bit of that fun shopping for people because you gear your selections to each individual person's interests or personality. For my mother, I tend to give her something about women and education, because we've talked a lot about that issue around the world. For my dad, I tend to give him something related to emergency relief, since he was always taking me to volunteer and help people get meals or shelter. And honestly, I do tend to tie it with an actual present, just something small like the packet of tea that went with the Mercy Corps tea booth I gave my mom one year.
And that's the thing — you can still give some of the usual gifts if you want and still add another Mercy Corps Gift. As a student, I'm definitely on a budget, and there are some gifts for less than $25! In the scheme of the rest of your gifts that you're giving, it doesn't seem like that much, but then it makes a huge difference for the person or community who gets the support. And talking about the story of the gift and the impact it will have makes for a much more interesting — and meaningful — family celebration.