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Christmas gifts that give and give again

19 November 2021

Christmas gifts can benefit more than just the recipient. Huw Spanner looks at a a choice of charity gifts, real and virtual

Send a Cow

Sylvia harvests avocados, aided by Send a Cow’s Sustainable Livelihoods project in Uganda

Sylvia harvests avocados, aided by Send a Cow’s Sustainable Livelihoods project in Uganda

ALL of the charities interviewed for this piece are, in different ways, addressing the two threats of coronavirus and climate breakdown, and seeking to offer gift-givers a way of giving their generosity rein and showing their loved ones how much they mean to them without Nature having to pay the price.

Most of the large charities concentrate on virtual gifts. In effect, they are soliciting donations to “unrestricted” funds, which leaves them free to spend this income when and where their partners say it will do most good.

What they provide the gift-giver in return is an image, story, or idea that illustrates something that such a sum of money might conceivably be spent on. All such donations are eligible for Gift Aid.



“THE growing acceptance and understanding of virtual gift-giving have been fantastic,” Send a Cow’s communications manager, Jennifer Stevenson, says. “It chimes with an antipathy to waste that’s particularly strong among our younger and church audiences.”

Emily Mullen, who manages the charity’s online shop, says that last year this form of giving “really saved Christmas” for many people, when big family get-togethers had to be cancelled at the last minute because of the pandemic. Send a Cow itself saw a 40-per-cent increase in income from this source.

This year, in a nod to its work to mitigate the effects of global warming, it has added to its range a new category of six “gifts for climate champions”. Top-Notch Trees, for example, has a sales pitch that speaks of carbon capture, nutrition, soil protection and so forth. The smaller print explains that your £21 will be spent “wherever the need is greatest”, to help families to develop their own solutions and “grow a better future”.

One gift that is proving popular is a little more particular. Garden Together’s £60 price-tag reflects the actual cost of giving a family in rural Kenya instruction in sustainable agriculture. Every pound will go to a project in the town of Migori, where Send a Cow is working with 500 local women to lift their families out of poverty by growing such staples as sweet potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, and spinach, as well as (less familiar to us) black nightshade and jute mallow.

You can “twin” your garden or a friend’s, though not with a specific Kenyan garden, and will receive a plaque and a planting guide that explains some practical, organic techniques that Kenyan farmers use in their vegetable plots.




Richard Hanson/Toilet TwinningTap Twinning helped fund this tapstand by Tearfund’s partner Lale Heywet Church, in Hosaena, Ethiopia

A PERENNIALLY popular choice of gift is Toilet Twinning (“flushing away poverty, one toilet at a time”), launched in 2010 and run exclusively by Tearfund since 2015. The dedicated website invites you to “twin your loo with a family’s household latrine in a vulnerable community in a country of your choosing”.

It goes on to explain carefully that “it’s unlikely that your £60 will pay for a latrine pit and slab. It’s much more likely that you’ll be helping to fund an education process that involves relationships, community meetings and workshops.” To date, Tearfund reports, the programme has raised more than £12 million, transforming the lives of almost a million people through safe sanitation.

An alternative for the same price is to twin with a water supply overseas. Tap Twinning was launched last year as an urgent response to coronavirus. Funds raised in this way are spent to give vulnerable communities access to soap and clean water, supplied perhaps by a solar-powered water pump, and to teach people how to protect themselves and limit the spread of Covid-19.

In return for your donation plus a few pounds p.&p., you can download a voucher to present to your gift recipient, and Tearfund will post them a certificate to frame and hang on their wall. The certificate will illustrate your gift with a photo of a “representative” latrine or water point, plus the GPS co-ordinates of the village where it is located.

For a further £20 (not eligible for Gift Aid), your recipient will receive a presentation box including a bar of fragrant soap and a toilet roll.




Christian AidOne of the group of women from Makande, Malawi, whom Christian Aid is supporting in their baobab-juice businessCHRISTIAN AID’s range of virtual gifts includes three whose purchase is actually a donation to its climate-change fund. For £9, you can be credited with buying Ten Cocoa Saplings, to enable a farmer to switch to a more suitable crop now that changing weather patterns no longer favour the coffee that his family may have grown for decades.

For £80, you can name-drop the mighty baobab tree, whose fruit is said to be a superfood. In Makande, Malawi, Christian Aid is supporting a group of women who are extracting its juice to sell at market (search Baobab Juice Maker). Their shared income will make them more resilient as global heating impacts their communities.

Alternatively, you could donate £15 to the agency’s health-care fund and nominally help Train a Soap-maker in Ethiopia, where women are being given the know-how to go into business making soap using drought-resistant aloe vera. A gift card will tell the story of someone who has benefited from a similar donation.

Adrian Adams, the agency’s head of fund-raising, says that last year its charity-gifts catalogue “exceeded expectations”, perhaps because people were looking for last-minute presents under lockdown, but perhaps, too, because the pandemic had fostered “a genuine sense of community, both local and global, and a desire to support our neighbours”. This year, Christian Aid hopes to raise more than £500,000 in this way.




Action AidPPE to protect Action Aid workersTHE charity ActionAid’s range of “gifts in action” this year includes three that are specifically concerned with Covid-19. For £14, you can inform a loved one (with a personalised card if you like) that you have bought on their behalf a Quarantine Kit that includes hand sanitiser, antiseptic soap, a digital thermometer, and face masks. For £40, you can provide PPE for one of the charity’s workers on the frontline against the virus.

ActionAid explains that 90 per cent of your donation will go towards its response to the pandemic, while the remainder will be set aside so that the charity can respond quickly and effectively to any additional emergencies that arise.

As climate breakdown inflicts more extreme and chaotic weather on vulnerable communities, a gift of £18 for a Shelter Kit could provide a family with the materials they need in the wake of a disaster, to create a safe place to sleep while they rebuild their lives.




All We CanGlorious in an All We Can lavatory in Zimbabwe

THE Methodist relief and development partner All We Can offers a range of gifts. Its cheaper alternative to “toilet twinning” invites you to Build a Bog for £36. “Your gift supports people like Glorious in Zimbabwe,” the website says, and continues: “All We Can is supporting families living in some of Zimbabwe’s poorest communities to build covered toilets to protect them from deadly diseases.”

Likewise, there is a gift with a price-tag of £66 headlined “Change Begins with a Bicycle”. “Your gift helps students like Nawalat to stay in education and transform their lives,” the accompanying text says. “In Uganda, All We Can is helping to provide children with bicycles so that they can make the (often very long) journey to school quickly, easily and safely — helping them to fulfil their God-given potential.”

The charity has confirmed that money raised through extraordinary gifts is 100 per cent unrestricted, supporting the charity’s work where they decide to spend it. All We Can will send you a card to deliver the message that, if not building a lavatory or buying a bicycle, any gift ensures that something worth while has been done.




Embrace the Middle EastEmbrace the Middle East’s gold, frankincense, and myrrh candleEMBRACE THE MIDDLE EAST works to support “the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the Middle East”. At Christmas, the charity offers its supporters the chance to boost its funds with both actual and virtual gifts.

The former are mostly small luxuries, from Nativity Handmade Soap for £3.99, fragranced with orange, cinnamon, and clove, to a Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh Candle for £9.99, and include a Palestinian Embroidered Accessory Bag, £22.99, and Coin Purse, £12.99, hand-embroidered by refugees from Syria, Palestine, or Iraq.

Add a virtual gift to your basket, and shipping costs for any of the above will be waived. All virtual gifts are, essentially, donations to a particular fund, and as such are eligible for Gift Aid. The charity relies heavily on income from these, with sales in the region of £240,000 last year, its head of communications, Matt Adcock, says.

For example, A Dose of Medicine adds your £12 to its general fund for “building for the present and the future”. This year, Embrace reports, its partners have been involved in helping to provide PPE and encouraging people to get vaccinated, especially those who struggle to get to medical facilities.

One gift that neatly spans the divide between the actual and the virtual is a Children’s Alternative Advent Calendar, a tangible present that counts down the days until Christmas and highlights the various essentials that Embrace provides for refugee families from the fund that its £12 purchase price goes into.

The calendar is accompanied by a story booklet about a Syrian boy and his experience of life as a refugee, with activity ideas including an opportunity for recipient to send “a message of hope to children like Sami”.




Worldshare UKA gift of £7 provides Hand Soap, Sanitiser, and a Mask for someone in Kolkata, India, where there has been a sharp rise in cases of Covid-19 

WORLDSHARE UK is a small charity that connects Christians and churches in Britain with Christians and churches in some of the “least-resourced and least-reached” parts of the world. Over the past 18 months, as a result of the pandemic, it has responded to the escalating needs of the communities it serves overseas by increasing its grants by almost a half.

This year, it hopes to raise £14,000 from its range of “freedom gifts”, its marketing communications specialist, Harriet Robson, says. Unlike many virtual gifts, these deliver precisely what it says on the tin. For £7, you can provide Hand Soap, Sanitiser and a Mask for someone in Kolkata, India, which has recently experienced a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases.

If you can stretch to £70, that will supply Three Months of PPE for a Child living by the rubbish dump of Guatemala City, to help to keep them safe as they go back to school.

Alternatively, as the climate chaos causes food insecurity in many parts of the world, a donation of £11 will equip a family in Uganda with enough Fruit Tree Seeds to grow three trees, through a community-led local programme.

For each item in your basket, WorldShare will send you, by post or email, a card to pass on to your friend or relation.




Good GiftsGood Gifts’ School Tree Pack“WHAT it says on the tin” is very much the provenance of Good Gifts. This initiative of the Charities Advisory Trust (CAT), which is now in its 19th year, makes an explicit commitment that your money buys the actual gift. Its catalogue ranges from £8 (to provide Underwear for Orphans in Africa) to £1950 for the Gift of Sight, paying for 100 simple operations to restore the sight of people in the developing world suffering from cataracts, trachoma, or other such conditions.

For £32, for example, one of CAT’s partners will pay fishermen in the Philippines to recover discarded plastic from the sea so that it can be recycled into carpet tiles. (The gift is called Fish Out of the Ocean.) Closer to home, £60 will buy the School Tree Pack: 60 saplings of birch, rowan, and cherry, or a hedgerow pack of hawthorn, dog rose, hazel, and dogwood, for British children to plant in some “unloved” space around their school.

For £100, you can buy a pack of 10 Little Good Gifts, potential “stocking fillers”, which include 50 bowls of rice for hungry children; an eye test and glasses for a child, a month’s clean water for a school, and three chickens for a war widow, all in Africa; milk for families using a foodbank; two pairs of socks; a week’s hot dinners for a pensioner; and help with an elderly person’s heating bill.

“As well as a warm glow”, the website explains, you or your loved one will receive a light-hearted description of your present on an e-card, a gift card or a simple, self-assembly Christmas cracker. For the gift card or cracker, there is a p.&p. charge of £2.95 for orders under £25.




 SolarAid/Thoko ChikondoAliya Ali with a Solar Aid lightTHE SolarAid charity is an innovative one: it specialises in reducing both poverty and carbon emissions in Africa by enabling the provision of safe, clean, and affordable small solar lights. At present, almost 600 million people in Africa have no access to electricity, which obliges them to cut their day short at dusk or resort to costly, toxic, and dangerous sources of light such as candles and kerosene lamps.

For £20, you can buy one of SolarAid’s “super-robust, no-nonsense” d.light S3 task lights for a friend or relation. It is a useful gift in itself, and valuable also as a reminder of what we take for granted and so many people lack. The price includes a £4 donation that will enable SolarAid to get a similar lamp to a family in rural Malawi or Zambia.

Or, for £12, a simple Gift Card tells your loved one just how big a difference your donation in their name will make. SolarAid has calculated that this gift benefits 16 people, saving them almost £480, allowing more than 3000 extra hours for study or work, and cutting carbon emissions by 3.2 tonnes.




TraidcraftTraidcraft’s recycled-glass water carafe and tumblerTRAIDCRAFT is enjoying a rebound after the stress of almost going into administration three years ago, its sales channel manager, Jo Forster, says. The team are striving to build what they call “The House of Fair”. She describes it as a community of like-minded organisations, up and down the supply chain, with a common goal of putting people and the planet at the centre of decision-making.

There is a huge range of ethical, sustainable and fair-trade products at every price point, from £1.35 for a packet of bestselling Jelly Beans in “gourmet” flavours to £140 for an Olivewood Nativity Set hand-carved in Bethlehem. A cotton Fairtrade Face Covering is £4.

A selection of goods made from recycled materials includes a showerproof 100% Recycled Bicycle Inner Tube Washbag, £18, fashioned in Malawi from old inner tubes that would otherwise have ended up in a British landfill; and a Recycled Glass Water Carafe, with tumbler, £14.95, hand-made in Bolivia. The tumbler fits neatly into the neck of the carafe like a stopper, saving on space and keeping the contents free from dust.

There is a minimum order of £10, and delivery is free if you spend £50 or more. Covid has made an impact on Traidcraft’s range, however, and a number of items are out of stock owing to current difficulties in sourcing materials.


Forthcoming Events

27 November 2021
An Advent Retreat with Poetry and Music
With Esther de Waal, Gregory Cameron, Peter Graystone, Richard Carter, and Rachel Mann.

25 January 2022
Preaching Lament and Hope
A Durham workshop from the College of Preachers.

More events

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