When it comes to buying gifts, I am a perfectionist. If it’s not absolutely, positively, the perfect gift, I feel like I have failed. But buying the perfect gift takes time—and not just shopping time. It takes time to get to know people in order to know what the perfect gift is when—and if—you happen to come across it. Too, I’ve found most of us simply buy whatever it is we want. I mean, we’re adults now. We don’t write a list and mail it to the North Pole when we feel the chill of winter start nibbling at our toes. (Not that that happens in Hawaii. Today’s high was a humid 84 degrees.)
A few years ago, I decided to do away with the stress of gift-buying and started a new tradition. Many of you probably already do this. Instead of giving individuals gifts to everyone on my Christmas list, I consolidated all that money and made a sizeable (sizeable to me) donation to a local charity that was important to me. Then, I sent a note with a photograph depicting the donation to those on my gift list.
Here are some ideas for great gifts that do good. I have personally donated to these worthy organizations myself. Please consider them in your gift-giving this season.
Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods:
Gift the gift of trees and help re-forest an ancient grove of majestic koa trees on Hawaii Island. Koa (Acacia koa) is a native Hawaiian tree that reaches heights of 100 feet and diameters of four feet. Much of it was cleared a couple hundred years ago to make way for sugar and pineapple plantations and ranching. In old Hawaii, its hard dense trunks were used for dugout canoes. Today, it is highly valued and used by makers of fine furniture and musical instruments.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I have become an `ulu (breadfruit) ambassador (O.K. “fanatic” may be a more apt word choice). Breadfruit is not only delicious (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise); it’s helping to feed the world. Too, it’s as productive as a field crop but as labor un-intensive as a fruit tree. The Kauai-based Breadfruit Institute is planting trees throughout Hawaii and around the world to help stamp out hunger. You can help by buying trees.
Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project:
If it sounds like there’s a theme here, you’re right. And it’s trees. The Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project is also planting trees in the upper reaches of Haleakala in order to re-establish a forest habitat conducive to kiwikui, an endangered, federally-protected forest bird endemic to Maui. Kiwikiu are five to six-inches long and use their long, parrotlike beaks to split open branches to extract insect larvae.
Friends of Hokulea and Hawaiiloa:
Twenty years ago, when the Polynesian Voyaging Society wanted to build a replica of a traditional voyaging canoe using wood, they had hard time finding—and accessing--koa trees that were big, straight and long enough for the two hulls. So, the SeAlaska Corporation (owned by the Tlingit, Haida, and Tshimshian tribes of Southeast Alaska) provided a couple Sitka spruce logs for the project. But maintaining a wooden boat is a demanding job. And after making numerous voyages, Hawaiiloa was put in dry dock and eventually disassembled and left in storage. Now, the Friends of Hokulea and Hawaiiloa are restoring Hawaiiloa in order to put her back in the water. The mission of the non-profit organization is to perpetuate the Hawaiian canoe building traditions.
Polynesian Voyaging Society:
As you may have recently read, Outrigger Hotels and Resorts has partnered with the Polynesian Voyaging Society in support of their upcoming Worldwide Voyage. That voyage will take two voyaging canoes—Hokulea and the newest, Hikianalia—to 26 nations and 85 ports of call with a message to “malama honua,” care for Mother Earth—or, as Nainoa Thompson likes to say, “Island Earth.” I like that choice of words—island. Because when you live on an island, you know how important it is to take care of your environment as if it is your living room. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the navigation of these two canoes will rely entirely on the signs of nature—stars, sun, moon, wind and waves. Birds and fish help, too. But there will be no GPS, no compass, no sextant, and no time-keeping devices used to navigate from Hawaii to Tahiti to New Zealand to Fiji to Australia and on around the fat of the globe.
Of course, the other half of gift-giving in the holiday season is receiving.
I remember all too well the gift my two brothers gave me one Christmas years ago when I was in college—an E.T. doll made out of shells. At six years of age, I may have thought this was cool. Maybe. But, at 20, all I could do was roll my eyes. I’m not sure whatever happened to that E.T. doll. It may still be in the box in which it was wrapped and stashed on a shelf in my parent’s basement.
When I first started giving gifts like trees, I was taken aback by my friends’ and family’s reaction, especially from the youngest members. They loved it. In fact, their interest and joy was much greater than that for the mediocre gifts I’d been giving in the preceding years. Lesson learned.
So, this year, I encourage you to give great gifts—and do some good at the same time.