Secret Santa. White elephant. Yankee gift exchange. We've tried them all, but none has really addressed our gift-giving dilemma. You see, our extended family loves to get together for the holidays, and we love to exchange gifts, but there are just too many of us. This year, we want to do something really different, so I made a few phone calls for ideas about ways to make our giving more meaningful.
"For us, it's about the real meaning of the holidays," says Sandi Morton of Rogue Valley Council of Governments, explaining why she and her colleagues decided not to exchange gifts with each other last year. Instead, they came up with a way to funnel their goodwill to others.
"Each year, we adopt a local family for the holidays. Last year it was a single mother of four who was battling cancer. We decided to give to this special family instead of exchanging silly gifts in our office," explains Morton.
When Morton told her husband, Tim, and their son about what was going on at work, they were intrigued.
"We had things we wanted but nothing we needed," she recalls. "So one thing led to another, and we decided to use our holiday funds for this local family. Our own extended family decided to join in, including my mother and my sister.
"In addition to clothes and toys for the kids, we were able to spend quite a bit on staple food items. And because the mom was sick, we also got some fast-food coupons for times she didn't feel like cooking," Morton adds.
RVCOG's yearly holiday giving goes beyond its staff members.
"We have ornaments hanging around the office, each with a child's name and a gift he or she wants. Lots of people who stop by our office for meetings take the ornaments home and come back with gifts," Morton explains.
This type of charitable giving has long been associated with the holiday season, but Dee Anne Everson, executive director of United Way of Jackson County, and her partner, Lue, have given it their own personal twist.
"It's about who we are and what we believe in," Everson says. "For years at the holidays, we've given checks to each of our nieces and nephews who are over 6 and under 18; everything is filled in except the 'pay to the order of' line. Then they choose the charity, fill in the name and send it off."
One young niece gave her check for diabetes research because, "my grandpa has diabetes, and I only have one grandpa and he only has one granddaughter."
Over the years, those holiday checks have sparked a long-term interest in charity and volunteerism in Everson's young relatives. Another niece collected a pile of backpacks full of school supplies this fall for a school for homeless students in Phoenix, Ariz.
Yet another niece sent her holiday check to Locks of Love only to decide months later that what she really needed to donate was her long hair.
"I thought my sister was gonna kill us," recalls Everson, "but you should've seen the picture of my niece with her long ponytail cut off. She had the biggest smile."
The boys in Everson's family are just as interested in donating as the girls. Her 5-year-old nephew is already looking forward to this year's gift. "I'm gonna be 6 this year," he reminded her recently. "Am I gonna get a check?"
As for my own family, for years we've made charitable donations in lieu of funeral flowers or as gifts for distant weddings. Then a few years ago, my husband decided that instead of giving holiday gifts to his work colleagues, he would make charitable donations in their honor.
And after my phone calls? Well, let's just say our holiday gifts are going to be a little different this year.