Monday, December 17, 2007

Give and Give Back

It's just a week to Christmas Eve. Are you done with your shopping, or has your shopping done you in? Even more importantly, what will the impact of all your gift giving be on you, your loved ones and the world as a whole?

That last question has been going around in my mind this year. For years I've purchased, exchanged and then had to find a place to store gifts without thinking much about the process. When I was growing up, my parents always prided themselves on providing lots of gifts for everyone, even though we didn't have much money. Nothing was expensive, but there was a big pile of it. Of course, since kids want nearly everything they see, my brother and I thought it was great. The only problem came when it was time to take down the Christmas tree and find a place to put all of those gifts. My closet and drawers were full before Christmas, now they were even fuller.

As the years went by, we toned it down a little, but each member of both my family and my husband's family still gave several gifts each, and they expected to receive the same. Again, piles of stuff that we'd lived perfectly well without a week ago now needed a place to exist. We often didn't know what to give the others, nor did they know what we might want or need, but we bought and gave anyway. I didn't need or necessarily want much of what I received, and it ended up stacked in the basement. As I found out later, my in-laws had done the same. I don't regret the time I spent on trying to do something nice for them, but it made me sad to think of all the money we had all wasted on things that have sat for years still in the boxes.

This year I vowed to put a stop to the waste. I've asked everyone I exchange gifts with to exchange charitable donations to some of our favorite causes instead of buying things for each other. Instead of more stuff that neither of us want, I'd like to donate to an organization that they like to support, and I'd like it if they donated to an organization that I support.

I'm also spreading the word about my favorite non-profit organization, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Founded by Carol Buckley and Scott Blais in 1995, the sanctuary provides a home for sick, old and needy elephants on 2700 beautiful acres of old growth forest, pastures, ponds and even a 25 acre lake. It's a well deserved retirement for Asian and African elephants who have spent years in zoos and circuses.

Why Tennessee? Well, the climate in Middle Tennessee is subtropical, quite similar to the native climate of these elephants. They are free to walk for miles each day, graze the grasses and browse the trees, eat fresh blackberries that they pick fresh from the brambles with their trunks. Caregivers, not keepers, bring hay, grains and produce to them three times a day, no matter where they have roamed in the environment. Many of the residents have foot and joint problems, caused by years of confinement in circus trucks and concrete or asphalt parking lots for those who worked in the circus, or in small, hard packed enclosures and concrete floored barns in zoos. They need medication and/or foot soaks, and those are also brought to them daily.

Sounds a bit like a 5 star resort, doesn't it? I wish I could retire in a place that nice. Everyone who works at The Elephant Sanctuary loves "The Girls" dearly, and it causes their donors to share that feeling. We also love the elephants, and I'd much rather know that my family has donated to feed Winkie or Sissy for a day than receive yet another gift that I don't really need.

If you have that one last person on your list, and you don't know what to buy them, why not ask about their favorite charity? If someone asks desperately what you want, suggest a donation to your favorite organization, perhaps The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. You'll both feel good, and you'll be doing good also.

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