What do you give to the person who has everything? Why not give the gift of helping someone who doesn’t?
Many organizations in our family offer unique Christmas giving ideas that are sure to meet a need.
MEDA: gifts that sustain
“A handout will get people through a day, week, or month, but a job or a business can last a lifetime,” says Michael White, Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) chief strategic engagement officer.
“Lack of access to finance, training, and markets often prevents farmers and owners of small and medium-sized businesses in developing countries from moving beyond subsistence.”
Developing nations must generate hundreds of thousands of new jobs every day to meet the needs of their growing populations. Most new jobs will come from self-employment.
With 65 years of experience, MEDA creates solutions to poverty “that will continue long after the project ends,” White says. “We work at the intersection of faith, business, and development to share God’s love through economic empowerment.”
In 2018, MEDA worked with more than 400 local partners in 62 countries to create opportunities for nearly 103 million families.
Through MEDA’s Christmas gift catalog, donors can give the gift of environmentally friendly technologies to an entrepreneur in Kenya or the gift of financial services to a farmer in Ukraine.
Last year, the catalogue collected more than $268,000. Often, private donations are matched up to seven times by governments and institutions.
For the price of a pair of fuzzy reading socks, give the business skills and financial services that a young woman in Nigeria needs to make her dreams come true.
Strengthening whole communities
“Donations of money can go much further than gifts of stuff in making a lasting impact,” White says. “Sending goods from North American can put local producers out of business.”
Donors wishing to ship something overseas may send themselves: MEDA needs short-term volunteers with professional skills in agriculture, finance, and marketing.
Whereas material aid has the potential to create dependency, MEDA’s financial support for small farms and businesses preserves individuals’ dignity and equips them for independence.
When MEDA helps a woman farmer in Ghana, Myanmar, or Tanzania to increase production, the whole community benefits. As her business grows, she hires others, who then can also afford better nutrition for their families and school fees for their children.
“MEDA’s approach works with rather than against local businesspeople,” White says. “Our goal is to strengthen the local economy.”
MCC: gifts that restore
Although MCC’s first official nationwide gift catalog appeared in 1993, their practice of offering alternative Christmas-giving options traces back to 1971 with a special emphasis on wartime relief efforts in Vietnam.
In the 1993 catalog, a Bible for a student in Egypt went for $2.15; an olive tree seeding for a Lebanese farmer for $1.55; a sheep for $8.25. Twenty-five years later, the price of a goat has risen to $60, but the goal of engaging the community through relatable gifts remains the same.
Choosing projects for the catalog is one of the most creative and energizing tasks of the year, says Laura Kalmar, MCC Canada associate director of communications and donor relations.
This year, out of 700 projects, MCC selected 25 that highlight the breadth of their work and their geographic reach.
In keeping with many supporters’ desire to be eco-friendly, one of this year’s gifts is “healthy dirt” through worm composting for farmers in India seeking an alternative to commercial fertilizers.
Animals are still among the most popular gift in the guide and can makes a big difference around the world. In 2016, MCC writer Julie Bell met an Ethiopian farmer who lost all but one of his 60 weakened goats due to drought. That year, thanks to donors, MCC provided 470 Ethiopian households with 10 goats each to rebuild their herds, and supplemental feed to care for them.
For the cost of a new watch, give a share of a cow that will provide a household in Vietnam with income they need to care for family members with disabilities associated with Agent Orange.
The catalog raises about five percent of MCC’s annual total core giving from individuals and companies.
As with all donation catalogs, MCC’s gift suggestions are representative (meaning that if a family needs a goat, they won’t have to accept chickens instead just because too many donors gave chickens). Gifts are used as needed within the donor’s chosen area, such as education, peacebuilding, relief, health, or food security.
Kalmar calls the catalog “a great way to introduce a new audience to work of MCC.”
Between 2015 and 2017, engagement in the catalog increased by 18 percent, with about 500 new catalog donors in 2017 alone.
A coach who receives the gift of a peacebuilding soccer club in Colombia might be hearing about MCC for the first time; perhaps she’ll visit MCC’s website and end up buying her team a lunch program in South Africa next year.
Want to do something tangible with your children? MCC encourages churches and families to gather items for kits such as relief kits, school kits, and hygiene kits.
MCC’s material aid includes necessities such as canned meat, soap, receiving blankets, or sanitary pads that cannot be sourced locally because economic upheaval or drought has depleted supply, or a conflict or natural disaster has disrupted transportation.
MCC’s long-term relationships with local churches and community groups on the ground are key.
“We’re not coming up with ideas in Canada and dictating solutions,” says Kalmar. “We’re listening to our partners, we’re hearing what their needs and their creative solutions are.” This determines what, where, and how much MCC sends.
To prevent inequities, MCC only sends the shipment once they have received enough kits to fulfill the shipping requests. All goods are high quality, so they’ll last and not end up in landfill.
“What we’re providing is what they need because our partners have requested it,” says Kalmar. “When it’s a local solution, we know that it’s sustainable.”
OTHER WAYS TO HELP THIS CHRISTMAS SEASON:
During the holidays, mission workers may be lonely for their extended families, supporting churches, and familiar traditions. MB Mission/Multiply divides donations equally among all overseas workers, giving them a dose of love from across the world and the freedom to purchase that little something they, their family, or their ministry has been waiting for.
Why not fund an MDS volunteer or two for a day? Just $40 provide one volunteer with dormitory-style lodging, home-cooked meals, tools, equipment, and transportation from a work camp to a house recovery project.
The International Community of Mennonite Brethren’s Global Scholarship Fund helps students in less-resourced countries obtain advanced education to equip them for leadership in their national MB conference. A month’s support for a student is $168 at the bachelors level or $233 at the masters level.