wishes grow on trees

My greatest argument in favor of the Christmas wish-list comes from my allegiance to Angel Trees.  Instead of ornaments, Angel Trees are usually decorated with little angels that contain a name of a community member in need, their age, and a short list of what they want for the holidays.  I’d bet $5 that you could find one of these trees at your local church, Salvation Army, or city hall.

I worked for a community action agency that used Angel Trees to collect gifts for families living in homeless shelters, and, let me tell you, the gifts collected from the simple holiday drive truly bring joy to the people who need it the most.

If you’ve never participated in an Angel drive, it can be a little daunting adding another Christmas Wish List to your already packed shopping trips.   The reality, however, is that you probably haven’t seen a holiday list so sweet and humbling in quite some time.

Last year, Jon and I shopped for a single mom with two children, and the mom requested bath products, the son requested socks and art supplies, and the daughter requested warm pajamas.  Simple, right?  We picked up all the items at Target, and felt warm fuzzies knowing that the family would have fun opening the gifts on Christmas morning.

Do you shop for families with Angel Trees? Or do you have a different tradition for giving back during the holidays?

a very merry scrooge

The Deadweight Loss of Christmas chronicles the poor economic choices inspired by holiday giving.  The economists behind the article suggest that most givers ‘use their best guess’ to shop for friends and family, and about approximately 10 percent of these purchases end up being a “deadweight loss” – a result of the recipients not actually wanting the presents they receive.

In my book, these economists are akin to Mr. Scrooge himself for not considering the thoughtfulness that goes into each of the gifts.  What’s wrong with the recipient not truly loving the gift, as long as they understand the sentiment behind the purchase?  If my sister buys me a book I already have, I’m happy that she thought of me – not upset that I’ve already read it.  Hopefully I can return the book and get something that I haven’t read the next day.

This is a pretty long setup for the real topic I wanted to bring up today:  Christmas Lists.  Growing up, my family always took a ‘thoughtful’ approach to gifts and spent a lot of time making, crafting, and, well, guessing what everyone in the family wanted.  Jon’s family, however, makes the economists smile by embracing the all-important Christmas Wish List.  A few days after Thanksgiving we all exchange a list of our Christmas dreams, and, well, they usually come true under the tree on December 25.  Convenient, right?

What do you think – should we exchange gifts based on intuition and thoughtfulness, or should we rely upon carefully crafted list of our wants?

targeted kindness with babycakes

ImageWhen was the last time that you were overwhelmed with kindness?  It’s happened to me a number of times, but more often than not, it’s the goodness of a loved one that inspires me.  Today, however, I was almost brought to tears by the generosity of a stranger.

Samantha recently opened an Etsy shop to sell gifts that she makes by hand with the help of her family.  She read about my random acts of happiness on the blog, and she wrote a letter asking if her Etsy shop could support the project.   I said yes, of course, and waited to see how the collaboration would evolve.  A couple days later, Samantha sent me half-a-dozen baby outfits designed to look like cupcakes.  She included the sweetest note:
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Despite the title of the random acts of happiness, I decided to go a little targeted with this donation by giving the gifts to women in need.  I feel like this is a new rule of thumb:  commit random acts of happiness unless targeted happiness will provide a greater good.  In this case, I knew that the Minneapolis nonprofit Birthright would be grateful for the thoughtful gifts.  Image
Minneapolis Birthright provides one-on-one counseling for pregnant and expecting mothers.  The nonprofit works with single, married, divorced and widowed women to dispense quality information regarding medical care, financial assistance, and childcare.

I spoke with a Birthright representative, and she told me that volunteers usually go yard-sale shopping to find baby items for expecting and new mothers.  She commented that “it is very rare, if ever, that Birthright children own something brand new. “

And so, I decided to break the cycle of giving Birthright women secondhand apparel.  I brought Samantha’s customized gifts to the center, and I told the volunteers to provide them to the women most in need.
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ImageImageImageImageImageImageDear readers, if you want to make someone else happy, try an act of targeted happiness.  Families in need are a great place to start, and a simple Google search with “donations + ‘your area code’” will display a variety of places that would be grateful for your donation.

And, finally, if you’re thinking of donating baby goods, why not start with something from Samantha? You can check out her Etsy shop KaeLilyBoutique, and show her just how quickly good karma comes back around.    And remember:
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