The holiday season is traditionally a time of wonder and wastefulness. Envision the number of frenzied shoppers who, between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, buy food and presents, transport them home in plastic or paper bags, throw away those bags, wrap everything in more paper or plastic, and give it all to friends and family, who then throw away that paper and plastic (or that ghastly fruitcake). According to reports by Use Less Stuff, Americans throw away 25 percent more trash during the holiday season, which amounts to an extra one million tons of trash per week. And about all those gifts . . . a lot of them are just obligations dutifully, and thoughtlessly, fulfilled.
The New York City–based Web site changingthepresent.org offers a way to ameliorate the otherwise stressful, environmentally ruinous holiday-shopping experience by making it easy to substitute charitable contributions for those useless presents. Changingthepresent.org lets you search for charities — either by specific nonprofits or generic causes — and make a donation (via credit card) through the site. They then print a card (on recycled material, natch) and mail it to your recipient announcing that you’ve made a contribution to something worthy in his or her name. The year-old site is run by ImportantGifts Inc., a nonprofit, and WellGood LLC, which provides the project with Web design and marketing support (they helped come up with the recently added donation application on Facebook).
“It’s not just about donating to nonprofits,” says Jen Gherardi, director of nonprofit relations for WellGood. “We want to establish a network of connections between people and nonprofits.” For the well-intentioned but uninformed, the site provides a linked list of causes, including disaster relief, veterans affairs, animal welfare, mental health, and social entrepreneurs. Jill Golden, a spokesperson for changingthepresent.org, says the site currently features about 200 organizations, one of which, Mercy Corps, makes it possible for you to buy a rural family a new goat for a $150 donation. Each cause has its own page, with a list of featured nonprofits, as well as related news and facts.
A word of warning: the facts are depressing enough to inspire a sudden urge to donate to everyone. I learned by clicking on “women,” that “women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive less than 10 percent of the world’s income, and own less than one percent of the world’s property.” Then I clicked on “water,” which told me that “one sixth of the world’s population does not have access to safe drinking water,” and then “children” to read that “13 million children in the United States live in households that must skip meals due to economic restraints.” And then I wanted to empty my (meager) bank account and support all of these causes. Consider me converted?