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Gifts that Give Back

By Claudia Kousoulas

In the day after Christmas, when you' re facing piles of presents and a depleted checking account, you want to feel that holidays have been more than a consuming binge. Finding the joy of giving can be difficult amid the frenzy of shopping, but there are plenty of enjoyable ways families can give while receiving. With gifts that give back, a charity gets needed support, you get a meaningful present and a good feeling that can go beyond material pleasure.


Every time you spread a bit of jam on your morning toast, think about the local child your breakfast is encouraging. Glen Burnie' s Kids Support Network (kidssupportnetwork.org) provides local underprivileged children with school supplies, Easter Baskets, and new Christmas toys. The group receives no county, state, or federal funding, and one way they raise funds is by selling gift packs of McCutcheon' s jams, pickles, and sauces on their website. By the way, McCutcheon' s in Frederick Maryland has been around since 1938, so you are also supporting local farms.

In Annapolis, VisionWorkshops (visionworkshops.org) has been working with local students since 2001, connecting them to skill and self-expression through photojournalism. " We reach kids who don' t have access to high-quality instruction," said director Kirsten Elstner.

"They' re working with photographers from the New York Times and National Geographic.

"In partnership with the Juvenile Treatment Court of Anne Arundel County and Annapolis Schools, the writing and photography programs are a real confidence builder for kids. " They walk away with skills their peers don' t have," said Elstner, and " discover they have something to say."

Your donation can sponsor a student or a class, or help provide materials and in return you' ll receive a print of a student' s work. And these are not simple snapshots. Their work has been exhibited at galleries around the country, including the International Center of Photography in Manhattan."

These kids aren' t jaded, their work is fresh and raw," said Elstner.The Internet has made giving an international affair.

The Network For Good (networkforgood.org) features a Kids Guide to Giving with a simple, four-click process to help families direct their giving. First, choose a broad category like animals or disaster relief then choose a charity by state. The site can connect you to more than one million charities, with nearly 1,000 in Maryland. You can decide whether to give money or time, and you can send a list of your favorite charities to family and friends.For the entrepreneurially inclined, Kiva (kiva.org) offers an ongoing way to become involved in the kind of micro-lending recognized by the Nobel Prize Committee.

As little as twenty-five dollars can be the loan that helps a Nicaraguan tailor, a Senegalese fish seller, or a Kenyan dairy farmer earn their way out of poverty. The fun comes in choosing who to fund and following their success as the loan is repaid. Once it is repaid, you can re-invest, cycling your money around the world.If you' re looking for something to put under the tree that can also have a community impact, websites like Oxfam America (oxfamamerica.org), Mercado Global (mercadoglobal.org), and the Fair Trade Federation (fairtradefederation.com) can connect you to craftsmen and merchants around the world dealing in unique products that guarantee a fair wage for producers.Mercado Global works with women' s cooperatives in Guatemala, while Oxfam America links to cured hams from a Missouri community group, museum-worthy baskets from Native Americans, and crafts from Mexican artisans.

Many of the housewares, jewelry, clothing, toys and accessories reflect the crafters' skilled hand and vibrant eye, others have the sophistication appropriate to a downtown boutique.Heart and hand under the tree can leave a good feeling all year long and send happy echoes around the world.

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