Some new ideas for Christmas giving

By Patricia Zapor and Staff Dispatches, Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Should the Christmas shopping crowds, costs and commercialism be at odds with how one is trying to observe Advent and the celebration of the birth of Christ, there’s a burgeoning world of alternative ways of gift-giving that are vying for attention.

  • Angel trees or giving trees set up in churches, schools or even commercial businesses around the country are an increasingly popular way to direct resources to needy individuals, usually children, in the local community.
    In the Archdiocese of Louisville, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services and Sister Visitor Center are collecting gifts for local families. More information is available on their websites. Information about giving to Catholic Charities, including Sister Visitor, can be found at St. Vincent de Paul’s web address is
  • About 500 Catholic organizations host sales of handicrafts from around the world through Catholic Relief Services and its partner, SERRV, a nonprofit fair trade and development organization, benefiting both the hosting church and impoverished craftspeople around the world. Fair Trade items in the archdiocese are available at Just Creations, a non-profit fair trade store that was founded as an outreach ministry of St. William Church.
    Refugees who have resettled in Louisville will benefit from the “Gifts That Give Twice: International Market” Dec. 8 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Southside Ministry Center, 5007 Southside Drive. Refugees aided by Catholic Charities of Louisville will be among those selling crafts at the market through the New Beginnings Artisans group.
  • Then there are also alternative gift programs, in which one buys a gift that benefits someone in greater need, whether in a far-off land or at the social service program across town. In return, the buyer receives just a card about the donation to pass along to someone on their gift list.
  • If those options don’t seem quite right, a movement started in the 1960s by Canadian Mennonites promotes the idea of a “Buy Nothing Christmas,” encouraging simple handmade gifts, an “abundance swap” where items are traded, and ready-to-print coupons for baby-sitting, back massages or desserts. Its materials may be found at

Locally, parishes have held craft bazaars and other holiday boutique events since early November. Parishes and schools collected blankets and canned goods for local charities last month.

Many parishes and schools have adopted the angel tree or giving tree model of giving to the poor. For these, names of needy people and suggestions for gifts they could use are handed out in late November or early December, with the information often written on angel-shaped ornaments. The gifts are returned to the church or a service agency, where volunteers distribute them to the recipients.

Sister Visitor Center in West Louisville offers the giving tree model with its annual “Christmas Give Away: Sponsor a Child.”

The charity hopes that donors will buy two outfits, undergarments and a toy for each child. Individuals also are welcome to buy one item that can be combined with the gifts of others.

Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services offers the Baskets of Hope program. Donors are invited to buy a laundry basket and fill it with either bathroom supplies, kitchen products or cleaning supplies for refugee families.

A list of suggestions for each basket is available at

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is collecting toys and clothing for infants through children age 16 for its annual Santa Shop on Dec. 9.  On that day, parents who can’t afford to buy gifts for their children will be able to choose items that were donated to St. Vincent de Paul.

For the internationally minded,  organizations that operate overseas offer an easy way to give through their websites.

How about donating money in the name of the brother-who-has-everything to ensure a program for children with Down syndrome in Cuba can keep operating? Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, offers that as one of the alternative gifts one can support with a few clicks on its site,

Or maybe this is the year to buy — in the name of that college-age niece who doesn’t need clothes but wants to save the world — a goat or a sheep for a struggling family in a developing country.

Save the Children,, and Heifer International,, are a few of the charities that would be happy to match your money with a family in need of a farm animal, knitting supplies or a clean cooking stove.

Save the Children and CRS also both offer sales of handicrafts made by the beneficiaries of their programs.

Courtney Lare, economic justice program officer at CRS, oversees CRS online direct sales and its Work of Human Hands consignment sales. She said about 500 parishes and other organizations hold such sales once a year or more.

Fair trade coffee and chocolate are the biggest sellers, she said. “And Haitian wall art, especially since the earthquake, is very popular, as are Christian goods like olive-wood ornaments and Nativities.”

Handicrafts are provided through SERRV and include everything from inexpensive jewelry and Christmas ornaments to hand-knotted Tibetan rugs and other home decor.

Although the weak economy has meant the number of participating groups hasn’t grown the past few years, Lare said sales are up. Sales range from about $600 for a first-time effort to the more than $40,000 a year that a parish in Ohio sells over a year, Lare said.

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