Giving from the heart

Despondent after another identi-kit party at an anonymous warehouse, sorry, play-centre, where the hostess gathered the vast gifts, no doubt mainly plastic and cardboard packaging, full of overpriced plastic toys, made by badly paid Chinese workers, I despaired. I didn’t know the child, didn’t know what she would like and yet the obligation to give, to be seen to be generous, was there. I had settled for a cute embroidered notebook, handmade by an Indian women’s cooperative, and sold at a local shop and some suitable wooden non-toxic crayons – given in a re-usable gift bag. I have a suspicion that the daughter may have flung them aside in disgust and the mother probably felt like the trade off between money paid for my son’s entry to the party and the size of gift did not tally.



But what to do? I do not buy big plastic gifts for my own children, and I baulk at the packaging on most “mainstream” toys.  So I’m not going to start giving them at the 20 or so birthday parties of strangers’ children from school, which my son is lucky enough to be invited to a year for three key reasons:  1) We don’t have the money 2) Its not our thing-: ecologically, socially, or values-wise and 3) I strongly believe that kids just don’t need that amount of toys they have, it is just an accumulation of waste and early training into consumerism.

So what to do?

And then it hit me – give to kids who do need something. I recalled friends telling me of children in India, Africa and Nepal hounding them, wherever they went, for a biro or a pencil. And here at home, my son has been given his third pack of cheap pencils in a month, in the party bag he received. 


So next party I am going to give a sports kit – to children in Africa, and the birthday child will receive a card informing them of this and a picture – this way children who really need something to play with will get it and the birthday child will have a gentle education into the world beyond their own…



Sponsoring an animal starts at £40 a year one off payment: helping to save the habitat of an elephant, panda, otter, dolphin, dormouse… It’s pricey, so maybe give it to the class and then give a card to each child with a copy of the certificate? WWF and many others do animal adoption. As do local zoos and safaris, where the child could visit “their” animal.

You can give a flock of chicks for €13 (OXFAM) or a duck for £12 (practical presents.co.uk) to families in need.

And then the wonderful  http://www.oxfamirelandunwrapped.com

You can give a sports kit FOR €9 or school books FOR €15.

Or 3 bags of seeds for €7 and then give a bag of seeds to the birthday child themselves as a way of connecting them to the child, and to nature and get them into growing things themselves.

Or give handmade, fair trade, co-operative made goods…
Or something educational, or start a passion for craft…
Tell me
How do you solve the gift dilemma, where you hardly know the person but a gift is expected?
To what extent do the gifts you give reflect your values?
  1. laangel
    laangel11-10-2010

    I love this idea Lucy! After I had Benny we gifted our midwife with a Trocaire ‘Midwife Kit’. I felt it was more valuable and really expressed our thanks to the profession. Our midwife was delighted with it too!
    With Christmas coming too gifts and gift ideas are on my mind. I certainly don’t want to be filling up our house with junk, especially as we are trying to live a bit simpler. I always veer towards homemade, yet I still feel pressure that just one thing is not enough! Oh the pressures of consumerism lol!

  2. carolinerichards
    carolinerichards11-11-2010

    Hi Lucy, I know exactly what you mean! So much stuff, so much rubbish. In my daughters classes at school, we pool resources and divide into present groups. Each group spends about £20/25 per present and there are four or five per group. It works really well as it means you only have to buy presents one in every four or five birthdays, and the birthday child gets something that they want or at least something directed by their parents. It may not always be the greenest, craftiest thing, but at least we only contribute £5 per present, and the child receives something they at least will use, as it has been requested.

    By the way, thanks for your comment on my blog. I’m just getting into the blogging thing, technology not being my strong point! I’d love to have your birth story (stories?) for my book, when you’re ready/have time. I read that you have a new (ish) baby so congratulations! I’ve been hugely inspired by your writing in Juno – it always comes across as incredibly well-researched and professional, but also revealing of your personal journey. Amongst others, I particularly like the piece in the latest Juno about treading the line between the mainstream and alternative. V. good!

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