Giving to give 

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Tis the season people. No, not the powder season. I mean the one where we cogitate on the essence of our personal Festivus celebrations (would that be Festivi?), agonize over whether we honour that or not, and, if so, whether we do justice to these notions or simply sleepwalk through the holidays in step with the largely hypocritical ranks of humanity.

We live in a time when the gaps between rich and poor, have and have not, generous and greedy, ethical and irresponsible (thanks for your contributions Stephen Harper) are so wide that giving gifts simply for the sake of giving gifts makes little sense. A search for meaning in largely meaningless holidays (kick-started for many by A Charlie Brown Christmas) is now manifest in the search for meaningful gifts. And since I often command this space to detail the failings of Canada's elected leaders (a growing oxymoron, BTW) and the world in general, I thought I'd use this turn to highlight three positive, grassroots initiatives that offer not only a better outcome of Christmas spending, but gifts that anyone except maybe a small child (or a Conservative) would appreciate.

I'll start in our Vancouver backyard with none other than Mark Brand, creative force behind celebrated restaurants like Boneta, Sea Monstr Sushi, and, arguably his greatest success, the resurrected, historic Save On Meats building on West Hastings. Driven by commitment to the community where he works and lives (plus a desire to prove naysayers — who accuse him of the very gentrification he publicly eschews — wrong and shortsighted), Brand has transformed Save On into a crucible for Downtown Eastside causes and the discussion they invariably entail. His engagement with the community, however, is unassailable. "Many employment-challenged residents work here — street sweeping, window cleaning, dishwashing, laundering, cooking," he says of a practice he calls "rehabilitative employment."

Brand hires disenfranchised locals, but he also serves them — with a butcher, bakery, walk-in diner, and streetside sandwich window open to anyone. Save On already subsidizes a local meal program that serves hundreds of residents each day, and last week I attended a function built around the launch of a new meal token program. Ideal for holiday gift giving, the $2.25 tokens can be purchased at the outlet or online (saveonmeats.ca/purchase) and handed out to those in need, who can redeem them for a nutritious hot breakfast sandwich. If you can't distribute tokens directly (e.g., don't live in downtown Vancouver), Save On can give your purchase to one of many community partners to share through their own organization. Those jumping on board include marketing consultant Village&Co. During December it will hang a Save On token on its Christmas tree every time the hashtag #shareameal is used across any social platform. The tokens will be donated to the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre in January, a critical time of need.

Another great donation-gift venue is the venerable David Suzuki Foundation. Coast-to-coast offices and a growing litany of environmental victories prove how this organization — headed by a national treasure and the country's #1 truthsayer — has impact where it counts. At davidsuzuki.ca you'll find more information in a minute about what's happening to global and Canadian environments, and the steps that can be taken to help, than our illustrious federal government has made available to its citizens in six years in power. If you've lately been shocked at the frequency of bizarre, fluffy, feel-good TV ads from the oil and gas industry — Enbridge in particular — you'll know how deep the war-chests of the obfuscators and prevaricators actually are. Helping organizations like the Suzuki Foundation get the facts out to those who would otherwise never be exposed because of persistent government infocide and corporate malfeasance is a gift not only to the recipient, but to yourself and your children in perpetuity. This is especially important as the organization embarks on a multi-year initiative to promote an Environmental Bill of Rights in Canada, something that exists in many more forward-thinking countries and is sure to be an expensive battle. Because information is power, the foundation co-published Andrew Nikiforuk's recent Rachel Carson Award-winning book, The Energy of Slaves, a must read (and excellent gift) for anyone interested in modern society's enslavement to fossil fuels.

And finally there's Whistler-based Playground Builders (playgroundbuilders.org) that to date has constructed 116 playgrounds being used by over 200,000 children in war-torn areas of the Middle East and Afghanistan. Because there remain many other children with childhoods usurped by war who would benefit from the positive ideals engendered by a play area of their own, PGB is offering a new way to give the gift of play: while donating to the cause is always encouraged, you can now specifically purchase balance bars ($83), a swing set ($327), merry go-round ($377), teeter-totter ($391), or entire playground ($7,300). In each case, PGB mails you a framed picture of the purchase, wrapped with a ribbon and gift-tag reading "I have donated a (rad gift) in your name for children in Afghanistan."

Placing anything from these organizations under a tree is sure to help put things in perspective for both giver and receiver. And that always has meaning.

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