Alternative holiday gift ideas

Lisa Steele

Perhaps somewhat unbelievably, the holiday season is fast approaching. Instead of stressing that your “lists” aren’t yet complete, here are some ideas for interesting alternative gifts, many of which can be used for holidays/birthdays throughout the year. Most are also fun projects that can include kids and the whole family.

One of my favorite companies is an organization called Alternative Gifts International. AGI is a non-profit, interfaith agency, raising funds each year for global gifts in its “Alternative Gift Markets” held nationwide and from individual donors. Their mission is to send authentic, life-giving gifts to the needy of the world–gifts that build a partnership with oppressed people in crisis and that protect and preserve the earth’s endangered environment. Ninety percent of all monies collected are used for the designated projects. Gifts can be given in any amount for projects around the world, from a Solar Water Pasteurization project in Tanzania, to Organic Gardening in Belize, to a Threatened River System in the Dominican Republic, to Homeless Americans in the USA, and to literally dozens of other needy and worthwhile projects. Participants can choose a variety of card styles and have the gift cards sent directly to their recipient, or the cards can be sent to you so a personal note can be written. Their websi te is very comprehensive, detailing the organization and each different project. A snail mail listing (also comprehensive) is available. This is a not only a worthwhile cause, but can be used as a very fruitful learning experience to teach children about geography, different living conditions around the world, and the environment.

Their website is, or reach them at Alternative Gifts International, 800/842-2243, P.O. Box 2267, Lucerne Valley, CA 92356, Email

Another great alternative gift idea is to donate in the recipient’s name to their favorite charity. Even the most hard-to-shop-for person on one’s list would appreciate this gift. From animals, to trees and the environment, to children’s hospitals and individual health issues, there is a cause out there for everyone.

When your family decides what the person’s favorite charity is, have your kids design a special card for them. Creating your own cards is a great rainy (or even sunny!) day activity. There are homemade paper kits available at most craft stores. Another fun idea is to recycle old holiday cards–cutting out fun shapes to paste on colorful card stock. Glitter, stickers, stamps, crayons–let their imaginations go wild!

Among family members, those homemade cards could also be designed and used as “promise notes”–i. e., a promise to wash the car each Sunday for a month, babysit younger siblings, go to bed promptly without complaining!, make a special breakfast in bed, or any other chore/idea/ritual that your family has. It is a fun way to let kids use their own imaginations without spending a lot of money.

There is a great website at with literally tons of interesting and time-filling craft ideas, many holiday-specific, from stamping with apples to using school pictures and recycled juice can lids to make a picture magnet, to sand art in a bottle using Kool-Aid!

For those very craft-y or food-y friends, get a pretty basket at a craft store, and your family can fill it with the recipient’s favorite items: scribble pads, stamps, stickers, crayons and a stamp pad; beads, fake tattoos, string or yarn, glitter, and washable body paint; gardening gloves, tools and seeds (tools and gloves can also be found in kids sizes for those pint-sized gardeners; check at Target or specialty gardening stores).

Line that same basket with a pretty towel or cheesecloth, and fill it with all of the ingredients (including the recipe!) for your favorite vegan cookie recipe–cookie cutters are a fun extra touch. Or, for that “trying-to-go-vegetarian” person, fill a basket with fun, tasty veg treats (delicious alternative grains, flavored tofu or tempeh, “fake” meats, miso soup mixes) and your favorite easy veg recipes or a vegetarian cookbook to keep them motivated.

Finally, a wonderful holiday gift for your own family is to volunteer. Not only does volunteerism educate children, but it also broadens their horizons and introduces them to compassion. Soup kitchens/homeless shelters need help all throughout the year, but especially during the holidays. Check with your local church or volunteer hotline. Children over the age of 6 are usually warmly welcomed. Animal shelters can ALWAYS use help walking dogs, grooming dogs and cats, and socializing animals in general. Not only will you and your family be participating in a needy cause, but by doing it as a family you will generate even more togetherness and a remembered awareness of what the holidays are really about.

Lisa Steele is the devoted vegetarian aunt to her veggie niece (4-year-old Whitney), and 4-month-old nephew Ethan. She credits all of her awareness and compassion for the animals and the environment to her mother, the kindest and most sensitive person she has ever known. Lisa’s email address is

COPYRIGHT 2002 Vegetarian Baby and Child

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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